Good to be back on my blog again after a long break. I recently started my postgraduate training in radiology which left me little time for blogging. I apologise for keeping you waiting.
This write up has been at the back of my mind for some time and was inspired by my experience at work. In my institution, we hold fortnight multidisciplinary meetings about breast cancer. All health workers involved in the management of breast cancer (surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, nurses, social workers etc.) are usually present and we discuss patients care and follow up.
One thing that struck me in the past few meetings is the decreasing age of women with breast cancer. There is currently an unmarried 29 year old woman with breast cancer on our list being followed up!
I thought I owed it to women to educate them about the risk factors of breast cancer emphasising prevention and early detection. Incidentally, October is also the breast cancer awareness month.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer in women and accounts for most cancer deaths. To be clear, there is no known definite cause of breast cancer but there are known risks. Breast cancer is also not preventable but the risks can be lowered. It can also be detected early.
The following are established risk factors for developing breast cancer:
Being female: 99% of breast cancer occurs in females. (Males also have breast cancer).
Age: It increases with increasing age.
Family history of breast cancer (especially in mothers, sisters and daughters).
Personal history of breast cancer.
Obesity increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
Alcohol consumption also increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
Exposure to radiation.
Having never being pregnant.
Having your first child at an older age.
Beginning your period at a younger age.
Beginning menopause at an older age.
Hormone replacement therapy.
It must be emphasised that these are risk factors that increases the chances of developing breast cancer and they don’t necessarily mean someone who has them will, with certainty, develop breast cancer.
Breastfeeding and regular exercising have been found out to lower the risk of breast cancer
The aim of this write-up is to create awareness about breast cancer risk factors and steps that can be taken to detect breast cancer early.
The risk factors that one has control over should be addressed e.g. losing weight, stopping/reducing alcohol intake, exercising more. There is nothing one can do about a family history of breast cancer or ones gender.
Early detection is a crucial determinant of survival of breast cancer thus the following are recommended:
Adult women should perform a self breast examination monthly. The idea is to be familiar with your breasts so that you can alert your doctor if there are any changes. (See picture at the end of article). Don’t panic if you feel a lump (8 in 10lumps are not cancerous) but schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Your doctor will then examine you and based on her (his) findings will order some other investigations which may include breast ultrasound scan (for younger women) or mammography (for older women) or removing a sample of breast cells for testing (biopsy) to further evaluate the breasts.
It is also recommended that women undergo annual breast cancer screening with mammography from the age of 40. For high risk women, annual evaluation of the breasts is recommended to start earlier.
I am appealing to you all, please inform your wives, mothers, sisters, friends, girlfriends, cousins, nieces an all females you care about (and those you don’t care about) about breast cancer and ask them if they have been screened. Before that, have you been screened?
Feel free to ask questions in the comments section.
Many thanks to Kemi Akola for ensuring this article was put up.