Breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women and the most common cause of cancer deaths in Ghana; it is a growth of abnormal cells in the breast. Over time, and when undetected, these cells can invade healthy breast tissue nearby as well as the lymph system in the armpit. When the invasive cancer goes undetected and untreated for an extended period, it can also spread (metastasize) to other organs such as the lungs, bone, brain, and liver.
“The number of women getting breast cancer in Ghana has increased over the years and is expected to rise with changing lifestyles and increased reporting of cases.”
In Ghana, there were over 2000 cases of breast cancer in 2012. Only 1-2% of breast cancers are found in men and most of the patients are between 40 and 49 years. The number of women getting breast cancer in Ghana has increased over the years and is expected to rise with changing lifestyles and increased reporting of cases. The key to successful treatment of breast cancer lies in its early detection. Unfortunately, 60 to 70% of Ghanaian women report to hospital in the late stages when the cancer cells may have already spread to other parts of the body. This is what eventually leads to death.
Prevention & Detection of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer can be cured and controlled, but this is only possible when the cancer is detected early through screening. It is important to understand that breast cancer does not usually start with pain, although a persistent pain at the same location should be investigated. The goal of breast cancer screening tests is to find it before symptoms show up, for instance a lump that can be felt. Screening, like charity, starts at home. Women must conduct monthly breast self-examinations where the woman checks the breast herself. Doing this on a regular basis makes one familiar with one’s breasts and any changes can be identified early. A breast self examination is best done after your menstruation or period using the flat (palmar) surface of the fingers (without the thumb). One should stand in front of a mirror and watch the breasts; first with hands by the side, next by lifting up the hands above the head, and finally by placing the hands on the hips.
During these movements, the breast is observed for any changes. Afterwards, one can lie down flat on the back with one hand under the head; the remaining hand is used to examine the breast. Use the fingers to press gently against the breast and chest in a circular motion. Go around the entire breast and into the armpit while doing this. Finally, squeeze on the nipple to check for any discharge. The hands are then changed over to examine the other side. Some people prefer to do this examination while taking a shower as it may be easier to feel lumps when the skin is wet. In this case, the hand is raised up and put behind neck, in lieu of under the head while lying down.Early detection and effective treatment is the only cure for breast cancer. Click To Tweet
It is critical that every woman be familiar with her breasts and the changes that occur in the breast and armpit area. What to look out for would include a lump in the breast or armpit, change in the skin texture, unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast, dimpling on the breast, change in the direction of the nipple, a rash or sore on the breast, and bloody fluid from the nipple.
For women over 40 years, it is recommended to do a clinical breast examination by a qualified health practitioner every year. This should be combined with a mammogram (x-ray of the breast) screening every 1-2 years from the age of 40 years. The mammogram helps in detecting very early cancer in the breast before it can be seen or felt. For women between 20 and 39 years the clinical breast exam must be done every three years. A healthy diet and lifestyle could also reduce the chances of breast cancer.
Treatment of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is usually treated with a combination of methods: surgery, chemotherapy (cancer medications), radiotherapy (x-ray treatment) and hormonal tablets. Each person will require different combinations in different sequences. The decision as to what to use will be based on the patient, type of breast cancer and the stage of the cancer. The earlier the diagnosis is made, the better the chance of a cure. Early detection and effective treatment is the only cure for breast cancer.
Worldwide this October, in addition to increased awareness on breast cancer, women especially are being encouraged to be vigilant and get screened by a health professional. Take charge of your health by getting your breast screened regularly. If you have a close relative who has had breast cancer you may need a personalized screening plan by a specialist. Remember, early detection and effective treatment of breast cancer save lives! Questions? Meet the clinical team on weekends at the Accra Mall all through October.
Written by Dr. Florence Dedey, Head of the Korle Bu Breast Cancer Unit at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. Questions? / Connect with the Korle Bu Hospital’s Breast Cancer Unit on Facebook.