“All my hair was cut off and so was part of my right breast.” This was Martha (30), one of my old time university friends. “And how was that possible?” I asked ignorantly trying to fathom what the cutting was all about.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I am currently undergoing the Chemotherapy,” she responded.
It suddenly occurred to me that breast cancer was not a foreign disease like many people think, but rather a reality. It had never occurred to me that such a close friend would have to go through so much pain over something preventable.
Martha could not help notice my curiosity and was quick to explain to me how the breast cancer was discovered. I have since had friends and colleagues share cancer related experiences and the need to educate and constantly remind the public about the dangers.
Breast Cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting woman worldwide and a leading cause of cancer death in the less developed countries of the world.
“This is partly because a shift in lifestyles is causing an increase in incidence, and partly because clinical advances to combat the disease are not reaching women living in these regions,” says Dr David Forman, Head of the IARC Section of Cancer Information, the group that compiles the global cancer data.
According to World Health Organisation, in 2012, 1.7 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer and there were 6.3 million women alive who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the previous five years.
Since the 2008 estimates, breast cancer incidence has increased by more than 20%, while mortality has increased by 14%. Breast cancer is also the most common cause of cancer death among women (522,000 deaths in 2012) and the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in 140 of 184 countries worldwide.
It now represents one in four of all cancers in women.
Generally, worldwide trends show that in developing countries going through rapid societal and economic changes, the shift towards lifestyles typical of industrialized countries leads to a rising burden of cancers associated with reproductive, dietary, and hormonal risk factors
In the Sunday Nation of 20th December 2014, Dr. Joachim Osur noted that the consequences of breast cancer can be pre-empted if women know what to do. He notes that routine breast examination detects the cancer early, at a stage when treatment is easy.
He recommends that women should examine their breasts every time they dress in front of a mirror. Mastering the shape of the nipples is extremely important too, because many cancers change the shape of the nipples and that could be the first sign of danger.
Like many women, breast cancer was the least disease that Martha ever thought would affect to her. She had simply gone for a comprehensive medical check up ahead of a trip, when she was cut short of travelling because she had to start her treatment immediately.
‘It was tough and unbelievable’, she admitted.
Her simple advice is that women have to make it a habit to massage all sections of their breasts and take note of any stone like feeling or breast lump because this could be an abnormality. Taking note of any abnormal discharge from the breast and going for a mammography, a special X-ray for examining the breast is a must for every woman.
In Uganda, most women only go to hospital once breast cancer symptoms manifest. No wonder it is discovered in late stages and many do not survive.
My plea to all women in Uganda is to go for check-up and start treatment as soon as it is discovered. Said Martha.
The writer is a development communications consultant