BREAST CANCER AWARENESS

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The month of October is for breast cancer awareness. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. According to American data, 1 in 8 women in the USA will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. In Botswana breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women after cervical cancer. In 2020, there were 209 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in Botswana, and this numbers are still on the rise.

Breast cancer can be asymptomatic and be discovered incidentally. When symptomatic, some of the symptoms include new lump on the breast or armpit, thickening or swelling of the breast, development of dimples on the skin of breast, redness, pulling of the nipple and nipple discharge. It is important to be on the lookout of these symptoms, particularly a breast lump which can be detected via self-examinations.

The risk of developing breast cancer is due to multiple factors. The most common risk factor is being female aged more than 50. Unknown to most is that breast cancer can also develop in men, however the risk is very low.

Other risk factors for developing breast cancer are a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, a personal history of breast cancer, prior history of using radiation treatment, using of hormonal treatment and obesity.

Screening for breast cancer can lead to early detection. It is important for individuals to be aware of how their breasts look and feel like. This is so that they can be able to detect any unusual changes. Self-breast examinations are also vital in detection of suspicious lumps. It is also advisable for partners to frequently check each other for lumps as well.

Mammograms are x-rays of the breasts that are used to detect breast lumps early while the cancer is still small and has not spread.  Women of ages above 40 years should talk to their doctors to arrange for yearly mammograms. The benefit of mammogram is that it can reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer. The downside is that in younger women it can lead to false results, where a person is diagnosed of cancer when it is not present. This can be psychologically traumatic.

The treatment depends on the type and the stage of the cancer, whether it has spread to other parts of the body or not. Treatment options include localised surgery, or breast removal (mastectomy). Lymph nodes under the arm can also be removed if cancer has spread to them. Other treatment modalities include radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can be given to shrink large tumors before surgery.

The take home message is that early detection saves lives. It is imperative to do regular self-breast examinations and yearly mammograms in women of age above 40 years.

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