Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. A breast is made up of three main parts which are:
- Lobules which are the glands that produce milk.
- Ducts which are tubes that carry milk to the nipple.
- Lastly, the connective tissue, which consists of fibrous and fatty tissues. The connective tissue surrounds and holds everything together.
Most breast cancers begin in the ducts or lobules. Moreover, breast cancer can spread outside the breast to other parts of the body. At this point, it is said that the cancer has metastasized. It should be noted that breast cancer affects both men and women but is more common in women.
According to studies and reports, there is an estimation of 2.1 million new cases being diagnosed each year, representing 24.2% of all cancer diagnoses among women. This therefore means that 1 out of 4 cancer patients is diagnosed with breast cancer. Here in Kenya, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer with an annual incidence of 6,000 new cases (16%) and 2,500 cancer-related deaths (11%) making it the 2nd cause of cancer death in Kenya.
The risk factors of breast cancer are:
- Age - Most breast cancer in women occurs from the age of 50 or older.
- Not being physically active. - Women who are not physically active have a higher chance of risk of getting breast cancer. So get out there and exercise! It is recommended that a person should do 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day.
- Genetic mutations. - Some women have inherited genetic mutations that are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Drinking alcohol. - Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.
- Obesity - People who are obese also have an increased risk of colon cancer as well as an increased risk of dying of colon cancer when compared with people considered normal weight.
- Having dense breasts. - This means that there is more connective tissue than fatty tissue in the breast and this can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram.
What are the symptoms of Breast Cancer?
- New lump in the breast or armpit.
- Thickening or swelling of the breast.
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
- Pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood..
It is important to go for breast cancer screening because it can help detect the cancer early which will make it easier to treat. There are different types of screening tests such as:
- A mammogram - This type of breast cancer screening is suitable for women between the age of 40 to 74 since they are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer hence they should get a mammogram every two years.
- Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - This type of screening used magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the breast. It is used alongside mammograms for women who are at a high risk of getting breast cancer. It is ideally used for younger women.
- Clinical Breast Exam - This is a physical examination performed by a doctor or nurse where they use their hands to feel for lumps or other changes.
- Breast Self-Exam - This involves breast awareness. Do you know how your breasts look and feel? If you do then you will quickly notice subtle changes such as changes in size, whether you feel pain or lumps. Should you notice any changes, you ought to report them to your doctor. It is important to do a breast exam at different points in your cycle.
Did you know that women who get regularly screened for breast cancer have a 47% lower risk of dying from the disease compared to those who do not?
How to Confirm Breast Cancer:
- Biopsy - This is done when mammograms, other imaging tests, or a physical exam shows a suspicious breast mass. A biopsy is the only way to know for sure if it is cancer.
The main treatments for breast cancer include:
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted cancer drugs
- Bone strengthening drungs
You may have a combination of these treatments, depending on your situation. A multidisciplinary team determines which is the best course of treatment taking into account:
- Where your cancer is in the breast
- How large the cancer is
- Whether it has spread to other parts of the body
- How abnormal the cells look under the microscope
- Your general health and fitness levels
At Faraja we offer care for our patients such as our popular breast cancer support group. The importance of this support group is that you are educated on how to navigate through this new phase and also have the opportunity to interact with people who are on the same journey as you. Join Faraja Cancer Support Trust to enjoy all the services we offer and let us support your on this journey.
1. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention: What is Breast Cancer Screening? Available at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/screening.html
2. Republic of Kenya, Ministry of Health: CS Health Kenya inaugurates board to fight cancer menace. July 31, 2019. Available at https://www.health.go.ke/cs-health-kenya-inaugurates-board-to-fight-cancer-menace