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Opinion: Monthly breast exams a necessity

2021-10-14  Staff Reporter

Opinion: Monthly breast exams a necessity
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Dr Esperance Luvindao

It is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Do your breast exam monthly, yourself. Find out from your parents if any of your close relatives had breast cancer, and if they had, make sure that 10  years before the age at which they had the cancer, you get a full examination done at your doctor. My condolences to all those who have lost a loved one to breast cancer.

One tweet about breast cancer awareness reached over 200 000 people across Namibia, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and the United States, and provoked thousands to see their doctors urgently. This goes to show that women are in need of health education that teaches them about various diseases affecting women in order for them to take control of their own health.

Let’s look at what breast cancer is. Who gets breast cancer? What if I don’t know my family history and have no living relatives? What are the signs of breast cancer to look out for?

Breast cancer is a disease affecting millions of women worldwide, caused by an uncontrolled multiplication of cells in the breast. Breast cancers may originate in various parts of the breast.

The lobules, ducts and connective tissues form the main parts of the breast, and it is important to note that a majority of breast cancers originate in the ducts and the lobules, which are responsible for carrying milk to the nipples and making milk, respectively. Breast cancers can spread, and this is important to remember as it is the reason why there are various stages of cancer. Stages one and four of breast cancer differ because the cancer has spread further in stage four to other parts of the body.

There are various kinds of breast cancers, but the most common are invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinomas. These cancers differ in their point of origin. As their names suggest, the invasive ductal carcinoma originates from the ducts, and the invasive lobular carcinoma originates from the breast lobules. These are not the only breast cancers.

A young woman has the responsibility to watch out for the signs and symptoms that may prompt investigation and lead to early diagnosis and management.

If you are a woman, your chances of getting breast cancer are automatically higher than that of men. Other risk factors include elderly women, if you started your periods early (before 12 years), or started menopause later than 55 years old, your chances are higher because you have been exposed to hormones for longer and a family history of breast cancer. If you have a first-degree relative that had cancer, you are more likely to develop a cancer. A first-degree relative is a mother, sister or daughter. The risks of cancer are increased even when the patient has a first-degree relative that had ovarian cancer and not necessarily breast cancer. In addition, if you have a personal history of cancer, or a history of radiation therapy, you are more at risk of developing breast cancer. These are some of the risk factors for breast cancer, and not an exhaustive list.

Women need to get used to checking their breasts regularly. I advise women to check their breasts weekly, with emphasis on the time after their periods. Research has shown that women should check their breasts once a month, and this is the current recommended standard of self-care. A self-breast examination involves checking ones breasts in the mirror to observe for any obvious abnormalities in the size, skin colour and nipple discharge, as well as feeling the breast for any masses or pain upon touching.

If you do not have any living relatives or don’t know where your family are, your doctor may advise you to do a BRCA test in order to determine whether you have the mutation for the gene that causes breast cancer.

Visit your doctor. Ask for a baseline full examination with a focus on your breasts. He/she will take a full history, including family history, examine both your breasts, and determine whether you need further investigations for your age and history, or direct you on when to come back for a follow-up exam.

2021-10-14  Staff Reporter

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