Here are four lessons on breast cancer you should read about.
Tomorrow marks the end of the month Pink October (breast cancer awareness month), but the war against breast cancer should not end. And in order to win a victorious fight, we have to consider these two weapons: early detection and awareness; and I am sure I don’t need to remind you on these two essentials in depth.
A lot of women fall into being victims of breast cancer by neglecting these two factors and of course, that’s when the hidden truths of the disease remain undercover.
We are not guaranteed to make it safely in next year’s October, so let’s discuss some of the breast cancer’s common misconceptions.
1. Some women with small breasts assume they have got nothing there for cancer to grow in. Whether you think your breasts are small or large and whatever the shape, you still have breast tissue. And any breast tissue puts you at risk for cancer. Even men get breast cancer.
2. Women are left “puzzled” when their medical reports say their breasts are dense after their mammogram test. Breasts are made up of glandular tissue (which produces breast milk), connective tissue (to support the breast) and fatty tissue.
The ratio of these three components determines whether you have dense breast or not. Over 50 per cent of women aged above 45 have dense breasts. You cant actually feel if you have dense breasts. This is a radiology term to describe your mammogram results. Dense breasts doesn’t mean you have cancer, but because of how dense a breast look on a mammogram, it can make it more difficult to read them.
3. Women don’t know the perfect time (interval) to get a breast screening done. According to recent recommendations from Tanzanian Cancer Society, these are the guidelines every woman should know.
• Women with ages from 25 to 45 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so.
• Women from ages 45 to 55 should get mammogram screening every year.
• Women aged 55 and older can switch to mammograms every two years or can continue yearly screening. Screening should continue as long as woman is in good health.
If you look closely, these are guidelines for a women of “average” risk. Average is a vague term, so it’s important to discuss these recommendations with your health care provider. Determine if you have any risk factors, and decide what makes sense for you.
4. Some women believe they don’t stand a chance to get breast cancer because no one in their families had one. So they don’t need screening at all. This is wrong!
Only 5 to 10 per cent of breast cancers are familial (someone in your family has it), that means, 90 to 95 per cent are spontaneous, with NO family history. So don’t let your lack of family history of cancer lull you into thinking you have no risk and no reason for screening.
Finally, talk to your health care provider. Make an informed decision about what is the best for you, when and what type of screening you need.
The author is a doctor with the Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam.