9 October 2017

Tanzania: Debunking Myths About Breast Cancer

Photo: Rush University Medical Centre
(File photo).

The pink ribbon, an internationally and locally recognised symbol for breast cancer awareness is most commonly seen in the month of October every year.

The breast cancer awareness month is marked to heighten attention the awareness, early detection, applaud the survivors and also pay attention to the palliative care for the victims.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), breast cancer is the top cancer in women both in the developed and the developing world.

It is estimated that worldwide over 508,000 women died in 2011 due to breast cancer.

The incidence of breast cancer is increasing in the developing world due to increase life expectancy, increase urbanisation and adoption of western lifestyles.

This is agreed by Dr Hamid Mustafa, a clinical oncologist based in Dar es Salaam who is of the belief that incidences of breast cancer are on the rise not only globally but also in our country.

In an interview with Your Health, Dr Mustafa says, "With the change in lifestyle, increase intake of saturated fatty diet and leading a sedentary life, all contribute to the increase. Tanzanians too are on the increased risk of breast cancer due to their genetic make-up, weight gain and aforementioned lifestyle."

Busting that myth

There are still existing gaps on the awareness of breast cancer that needs to be bridged with correct information. Such misconceptions needs to be addressed.

Dr Mustafa debunks some of the common myths that exist in the minds of many and explains the reality behind it.

1. If I have a breast lump, it must be cancer.

Reality: More than 90 per cent of breast lumps are non-cancerous. But tests such as fine needle aspiration cytology or core needle biopsy should be performed on lump for diagnosis or to rule out cancer.

2. Antiperspirants and underwire bras can cause breast cancer.

Reality: Though tight fitting bras can cause breast discomfort therefore should be avoided, there are no significant data that suggests tight bras or antiperspirants can be a major cause of breast cancer.

3. Young women don't need to worry about breast cancer.

Reality: I will suggest young women or teenagers to do a self breast examination on a regular basis. And as I said earlier that benign or non-cancerous lump [fibroadenoma] is very common among the young women.

But I would like to caution them that they do need to see a doctor if they feel a lump.

4. Only women can get breast cancer.

Reality: Even men get breast cancer but occurrence is less and it comes in a more aggressive form when it occurs in men.

5. Lump is the only symptom that I should be concerned about.

Reality: There are other important signs that one needs to be vigilant about and go for an early check up. These are:

- Any swelling in breast

- Any discharge from nipples

- Retraction of nipples

- Any swelling under the arms

- Redness, scaliness or thickening of nipple or breast skin

- Pain in breast or nipple

Early detection in order to improve breast cancer outcome and survival remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control, cautions WHO.

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