Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide and in Nigeria.
Within Nigeria, it is commoner in the southern regions more than the northern regions.
Throughout a woman’s lifetime, there is a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. In other words, 1 in every 8 women will be diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime.
In Nigeria, an average of 70,000 women dies from the disease every year. In 2018, breast cancer accounted for 16.4% of all cancer-related deaths among women in Nigeria according to World Health Organization.
Despite this high rate of death, the chances of survival and full recovery are very high if detected at an early stage.
CAUSES OF BREAST CANCER
There is no single cause of breast cancer that is already clearly known. However, several factors can aid and increase the chances of its development. These include;
- Family history of breast cancer usually in close “maternal” relatives like mother, sisters, maternal aunts, maternal grandmothers etc.
- Age: the risk increases as you get older.
- Overweight and Obesity
- Cigarette smoking
- Eating high fat-containing diets especially saturated fats.
- Alcohol intake
- Starting menstruation at very young age and stopping menstruation late usually more than 55 years.
- Having first pregnancy at an older age.
- Previous diagnosis of breast cancer in one or both breasts.
- Previous diagnosis of breast lumps (non-cancerous) in any of the breasts.
- Being Black (African, African American) also increases the risk.
- Poverty among others.
SYMPTOMS OF BREAST CANCER
Breast cancer can present with several symptoms which can sometimes be hard to notice unless a woman is conscious of them and look out for them. Some of these symptoms include;
- breast lump or an area of thickened tissue within the breast substance.
- Nipple discharge which can sometimes be bloody or foul-smelling. Sometimes it can just appear colorless or even milky.
- A change in the shape or size of the breast or breast contours.
- A change in the shape or position of the nipple. The nipple appears to be drawn in or pushed out more than usual.
- Skin dimples that sometimes resemble the skin of an orange fruit.
- There may be lumps in the armpits. Remember that the breast extends to the armpits.
- Intense itching or rash around the nipples can sometimes be a symptom.
- There may be areas of changed coloration on the skin overlying the breast. This may be a red or black discoloration.
- Most cancerous breast lumps are not painful. But ensure you have all lumps checked up.
HOW TO DIAGNOSE BREAST CANCER
Whenever any of the symptoms mentioned above is noticed, please do not hesitate to see your doctor urgently.
Your doctor will examine you and may ask for further tests to check depending on his findings.
Some of these tests may include;
1. Mammography: This is primarily used for screening for breast lumps and can give an idea whether the breast lump is cancerous or not. Sometimes, breast ultrasound is used to check the breast especially if the woman is young, usually younger than 35 years.
2. The doctor may also take a small sample from the breast lump and send to the laboratory to check under the microscope to determine if it is cancer or not. This is called biopsy.
These are some of the first tests that your doctor might want to do before other things.
TYPES OF BREAST CANCER
Based on the findings from the tests, there are different types of breast cancer that can be detected. These include;
- Invasive breast cancer: This is common than others. The cancer cells have spread from within the breast tubes into other parts of the breast.
- Non-Invasive breast cancer: This is still within the breast tubes and has not spread to other parts within the breast. This is the reason why regular screening with mammography is very important because this type of breast cancer does not usually show as breast lump but can be picked up by mammogram.
- When the nipples become very itchy and with rashes, it may be a sign of a rare type of breast cancer called Paget’s Disease of the Breast.
- Other types include inflammatory breast cancer and lobular breast cancer.
- In some cases, breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body either through direct spread, blood, or through another type of body fluid called the lymph. This is called metastasis of the cancer and is an indication of an advanced cancer.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR BREAST CANCER
Like we pointed earlier in the introductory part, early detection is the key to treatment. Some of the treatment options your doctor might offer you depend on the stage of the disease and other clinical findings. They are usually offered as combination therapies including;
1. Surgery: This involves removal of the breast either in part or whole. This is usually the first treatment before adding others.
2. Chemotherapy: Usually, your doctor will offer a special type of drugs called chemotherapy as part of your treatment depending on the stage of the disease.
3. In some cases, Radiotherapy can be offered to kill the cancer cells. This involves use of some radiations directed at the cells to kill them.
Other treatment options include Hormonal therapy, use of immune manipulation called immunotherapy, among few others.
The type of breast cancer affects the type of treatment combinations that your doctor will offer you.
SCREENING FOR BREAST CANCER
Breast Self-examination: This is a regular monthly breast examination that can be done by every woman usually few days after completing their menses. It has been shown that in about 40% of breast cancer cases, this method can help to detect the disease at early stage.
Clinical Breast Examination: This is an advanced form of breast examination done by your doctor or an experienced Nurse. Usually, it should be conducted every year.
Breast Ultrasound: This is used to check the breast usually in women younger than 35 years of age who might still have a lot of fat in their breasts.
Mammography: This is a small X-ray of the breast to show if there are any lump or other features of breast cancer. It is very important to do this routinely especially from age 40 years. This can especially help to detect non-invasive type of breast cancer.
Screening tests can be done every 3 years in women above 40 years who do not have other recognized risks for the disease.
BREAST CANCER PREVENTION
Prevention of breast cancer simply involve controlling the identified risk factors and avoiding them. Some of the advises for prevention include;
- Eating low-fat diet and avoiding fast foods and junks.
- Regular exercise. This will improve your general state of health and also reduce your risk of becoming overweight or obese. By maintaining healthy weight, the production of the hormone called estrogen will be within normal limit and thus reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
- Avoid cigarette smoking!
- Avoid alcohol intake.
- Regular breast examination and screening
For more information and expert consultation, please visit our office or book an appointment https://bluepinkcenter.org/book-an-appointment to see any of our professionals.