October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Dr. Barbara Entsuah
Lifestyle October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
NOV 2, 2021 LISTEN

October is designated as Breast Cancer (BC) awareness month and it is important for all women to know what can be done to detect breast cancer early. Two weeks ago, together with other partners my NGO Gateway of Hope Inc organized a Health Fair at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons where we screened about 300 women for both Breast and Cervical Cancers. We also had Mental and Spiritual health counsellors present to help women who needed their services. We hope to make it an annual Fair event.

In Ghana, and other limited resource countries, Breast Cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women, and over 3000 women die each year from it. Most cases are presented at advanced stages resulting in higher death rates. Research shows that death rates are higher in Low and Median Income countries because detection and treatment are late, and there are limited resources for detection and treatment. The death rates from breast cancer in developed countries have been decreasing over the last few years due to increased awareness, screening, and improved treatment methods.

Detection of Breast Cancer

Early detection is by screening for breast cancer in someone without symptoms. Early detection is the key to early and successful treatment or cure. The recognized ways to screen for breast cancer include a three part action plan, according to the American Cancer Society.

Three Part Action Plan

  1. Self-Breast Examinations (Breast Awareness)

Although it has been debated whether this saves lives, it has been found to lead to early treatment. Some experts do not recommend it; however it is good for a woman to know what her breasts feel like so that if there is a new lump, mass, or thickness she quickly recognizes it. Those in countries without regular Mammogram availability need to do this. The best time to do this examination, if you still menstruate is about 7-10 days from the start of the period. If you are post-menopausal, just fix a particular day of the month and do it at that time; for example, you may choose the first day of each month or the last day of each month.

Learn How To Do Breast Self-Examinations

It is important that prior to starting breast self-examinations one goes to a health professional for an examination and be taught how to do the examination properly. The health professional after examining and declaring that there is nothing of concern in the breasts, will then make you confident to do your own self breast examinations. You can also watch internet videos of the technique. You can also watch You Tube videos and other Social Media sites.

  • Breast Examination Using A Breast Light
  • Several devices have been developed to enhance a woman’s self-breast examination and a prototype consists of a hand held infrared light which one shines in a systematic way on different parts of the breast in a darkened room. Veins and blood vessels appear as dark lines and any tumors/masses may show up as shadows. However, experts believe it gives women a false sense of assurance and the mammogram should be the screening choice. However, in low resource countries where mammograms may not be readily available, this may be useful in the hands of a health professional. Examples are the BREASTLIGHT and the BREAST-I devices. The Breast-i device was used in a study at the Cape Coast Medical School/Hospital in 2018, and they found it detected more breast cancers then health professional examinations. They do not replace a clinical breast exam or Mammogram.

  • Health Professional Examination (Clinical Breast Exam – CBE)
  • If you do not have access to regular mammograms, you will have to consult a trained health professional to do your breast examination. This is known as a Clinical Breast Examination (CBE). Some doctors, especially in developing countries, are not proactive in conducting preventive examinations like, breast exams. So, you need to go and ask your doctor to do your breast examination and to refer you to go and have the BILATERAL SCREENING MAMMOGRAM done. Explain to them that you want to do self-breast examinations by yourself, so, you would like him/her to check your breasts for the first time, and secondly teach you how to do it properly. Once you get to know how to do this breast self examination, then you can do it on your own with confidence. A CBE can be done once a year after the age of 40 years and at interval of every 3 years between the age of 20-40 years.

  • Screening Mammography
  • This is the main or gold standard screening test for Breast Cancer. A Mammogram is a special x-ray imaging to detect abnormal growths in breast tissues. These include infection, benign tumors, cancers, or fluid filled sacs (cysts). Before your examination, you may have to fill a questionnaire asking you about your breast history, for example, previous breast issues like biopsies, surgery, etc. and family history of breast cancer.

    During such an examination, the technician compresses each breast between 2 plates and takes two pictures of each breast. It may be a little uncomfortable but lasts less than 15 to 20 minutes and most women do not have any problems with it. It is important that the breasts are flattened so that any lump present can be detected.

    Please, get a mammogram done if available in your community because it may save your life. Your children, husband, and loved ones will want you around for many years. Various medical entities recommend women at average risk aged between 50 to 74 years to have a screening mammogram every two years and for careful consideration before starting between 40 and 49 years for those with average risk. Its recommended to stop screening mammograms at age 75 years, however; many issues like life expectancy, frailty, and medical or ill health have to be taken into consideration.

    Dr. Barbara Entsuah MBChB, MHSc, Fellow Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, Board Certified Family Medicine. Philanthropist, and Author.

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