It is October, the pink-ribbon month. As you wear the pink ribbon or see it around you, have you had your breasts screened? Here is why you should screen for breast cancer.
Breast cancer screening means that your breasts are checked for cancer before you have any symptoms of the disease. This is aimed at finding the disease at an early stage when treatment for the disease is more effective. Screening for cancer will not prevent the disease but will lead to further investigation in women with suspicious findings to diagnose or rule out cancer.
Breast cancer ticks all boxes for the need for screening and early diagnosis. It is a leading cause of disease and death in the country and globally. Data from the Global Cancer Observatory (GLOBOCAN) in 2018 showed that breast cancer accounts for 12.5% of all new cancer cases in Kenya. Amongst the cancers diagnosed in women, it accounted for 21 in every 100 new cancer cases. This showed that it was the leading cause of new cancers in the country. In the same period, breast cancer accounted for 9 deaths in every 100 deaths from cancer, making it the third-leading cause of cancer deaths.
Why should you be screened for Breast Cancer?
If a study done at the Kenyatta National Hospital is anything to go by, then you should be screened as soon as today. Many patients are diagnosed with late stages of breast cancer which reduces their chance of cure and survival. Only 7.4% of women were diagnosed with stage 1 disease while 21% of them were diagnosed with stage 4 disease.
Screening is done by mammography. This is a low-dose x-ray imaging method. However, mammography is not error-proof. It may give wrong results by missing lumps that are present or showing that a cancerous-lump is present when it isn’t.
What is the recommended age to be screened?
The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that most of the breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women above 50 years of age. In Kenya, the median age of diagnosis is 48 years. Therefore, in line with this figures, the Kenya National Cancer Screening guidelines recommend that women aged 40-55 years have a clinical breast examination (CBE) and a mammogram done annually, and every two years in those aged 56-74 years.
Since the risk is lower in younger women, they recommend that women aged 25-34 years have CBEs every 3 years. If you are between the ages of 35 and 39 years, it is recommended that you have a clinical breast examination (CBE). Ultrasound imaging should be done every 1-3 years.
What about breast self-examination?
Breast self-examination is not a screening method but is encouraged as part of breast cancer awareness. According to the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), self-examination contributes to a woman’s sense of empowerment and awareness about her breast health.
One should be familiar with their breasts- how they look and feel, and should report any changes to a health care provider.
Breast cancer symptoms
- New lumps in the breast or the armpit. These are usually painless.
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- Nipple discharge
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast
- Pain in any area of the breast
Risk factors for Breast Cancer
There are no exact causes of breast cancer, but there are factors that are associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. These include:
- Being a woman
- Increasing age. In Kenya, the average age at diagnosis is 48 years.
- A history of breast cancer in one’s family, including inheriting the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.
- Radiation to the chest wall
- One not having given birth despite their increased age
- Not having breastfed
- Early age of receiving one’s first period and/ or late age of menopause
- Estrogen Hormone replacement therapy
- Lifestyle factors: Obesity, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption and tobacco use.
Have you had your screening yet?