Are you breast cancer aware?
Cancer has undoubtedly affected the lives of most people worldwide, whether it has been in a direct or indirect manner.
We all know someone whose life has been devastated by some form of cancer and many a time we are left wondering what more we can really do about the disease.
There is actually one thing we all can do, and that is to always remain cancer aware.
On a recent trip to Lagos, I teamed up with the non-profit charity organization, CancerAware Nigeria to help raise awareness about breast cancer in Nigeria.
The organization’s goal is to ultimately lower the high cancer incidence in the country by means of education, advocacy, and awareness initiatives.
We discussed on air what women really need to know about breast cancer and the appropriate steps required to promote improved breast health.
There was a major theme though that seemed to re-echo during our extensive discussions about breast cancer in Nigeria – there are currently too many myths and misconceptions surrounding breast cancer (and most cancers in general) that are hindering people from obtaining the appropriate medical care they need.
This dissemination and acceptance of misinformation about breast cancer appears to be a hurdle holding back many people from really taking control of their breast health.
For example, every woman must remember to be diligent in adhering to breast cancer screening practices. When we talk about breast screening, the aim is to look for any evidence of disease prior to any manifestation of symptoms.
It essentially means that you routinely make sure that you engage in practices that may potentially help in the early detection of cancer.
Far too often, women irrespective of educational level or socioeconomic status are ignoring their breast health.
Nonetheless, every woman must become very comfortable with recognizing what their breasts look and feel like at baseline.
This is key so that if ever any breast changes arise, there is a point of reference for comparison, and one can seek immediate medical evaluation.
One of the major forms of breast screening is mammography. This means that your doctor will obtain an X-ray of the breasts.
There is a bit of controversy from various health care organizations about screening mammography guidelines and frequency.
Generally though, the discussions with your doctor about screening mammography in particular will be initiated starting around the age of forty.
Screening really becomes an integral and routine component of cancer detection as all women get older.
Some of the commonly held myths about breast cancer screening that patients I spoke to espoused included the following:
1. “I feel fine, therefore I don’t need to be screened. Breast cancer is not my portion!”
Some patients who feel okay and are asymptomatic can still be found to have breast cancer.
Age is a major risk factor for the condition; so as you get older your risk for developing breast cancer continues to increase. Routine screening is imperative!
2. “No one in my family ever had breast cancer, therefore I’m not at risk and don’t need to be screened.”
The fact of the matter is that all women are at risk of breast cancer, even if there is no family history of the disease.
Some of the factors that may increase your risk for developing breast cancer include advanced age, late menopause, early age puberty, and even obesity.
Sometimes breast cancer may even occur in women with minimal risk factors. Therefore, breast screening is important for all women.
3. “The only symptom of breast cancer that matters is a breast lump; if I don’t have a lump, then there’s no problem and no reason for a mammogram!”
A breast lump is just one potential sign or symptom of breast cancer. We are all taught that a breast mass or lump is the mainstay red flag that’s indicative of a potential problem.
A breast lump though shouldn’t be the only red flag on your radar; Other changes that women must be on the look out for include: skin changes like dimpling of the skin, a change in skin texture (e.g. skin resembling that of an orange peel), or even extreme persistent scaling and redness of the skin. Also be wary of any new nipple discharge or nipple inversion.
4. “I take special herbal medication that protects me from cancer and will treat the disease even if I had it, therefore seeing a doctor for screening and/or treatment isn’t necessary”
Do not depend on traditional healers and herbal remedies to cure any potential cancers. There is simply no scientific evidence demonstrating that these traditional practices or any herbal concoctions can eliminate cancer.
It is therefore critical to empower and educate yourself with information about breast cancer and ensure that cancer awareness becomes a priority in your life.
Talk to your doctor if you have questions about your breast health and remember that maintaining cancer awareness allows for earlier detection and better odds of fighting the disease.