Breast cancer is a form of cancer in which the cells in the breast tissue divide and grow with unrestrained control. It is the most common cancer affecting women globally. Worldwide approximately a 2.1million women are affected each year and breast cancer is associated with roughly 627,000 deaths annually. Closer to home there are 300-500 new cases each year, with the majority of these cases occurring in women under 50 years old.
Surprisingly, the average age of diagnosis of breast cancer in Bahamian women is 42 with the majority of these women presenting with late-stage disease. What does this mean for us as Bahamian women? It means that our mothers, sisters, aunts, and wives are falling victim to this disease at younger ages and dying a lot earlier than our global counterparts. One may be shocked to learn that Bahamian women have the highest prevalence of an inherited BRCA gene worldwide. A woman‘s lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2. This unfortunately is the dilemma that we as Bahamian women face.
We can however fight back. Early detection and screening can lead to better outcomes, survival in women. The beginning of this fight involves knowing your risk. These include
- Increasing age
- Genetic predisposition
- Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
- Early-onset of periods and late-onset of menopause
- Not having children or having children at an older age
- Alcohol abuse
Women should also be aware of the symptoms of breast cancer. The most common symptom may be a lump or thickened area of breast tissue or a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts. Some women may observe fluid from the nipples, swelling in the armpits, or dimpling of the skin on the breast. The nipple may also seem sunken into the breast tissue.
Screening also leads to early detection and better outcomes. Screening involves the testing of women to identify cancers before any symptoms appear. There are various methods used to achieve this goal including breast self-examinations, clinical exams, and mammography.
While clinical examinations are an effective method of detection, women are encouraged to become familiar with their breasts through self-examination. In this way, you may be the first person to identify anomalies in your breast.
Mammography has been shown to reduce breast cancer mortality by approximately 20%. It is recommended that women age 50 – 74 years have a mammogram every two years. Women who are 40 – 49 years old should talk to their doctor about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. Women with a family history or genetic predisposition to breast cancer should also have this important talk with their physician as screening in this group will begin much earlier.
By knowing the basics, we can detect breast cancer at earlier stages and improve outcomes. Let us be proactive in our health so that together we can defeat breast cancer. #cancersucks #fightlikeagirl #beatbreastca