Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), also referred to in America as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), is an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities every October to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer.
Over the years women have been affected and some have lost their lives to the scourge of breast cancer, some of the reasons being inability to accesses regular check-ups due to lack of knowledge and in some instances lack of machinery that does mammograms. It is in light of the above tragedies, Zimbabwe subscribes to the Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, five common cancers in black Zimbabwean women are:
- Cervical cancer 33,5 percent;
- Breast cancer 11,7 percent;
- Kaposi sarcoma 8,9 percent;
- Eye cancer 6,5 percent; and
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 4,9 percent.
Breast cancer occurs when some breast cells begin to grow abnormally. These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells do and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass. Researchers have identified hormonal, lifestyle and environmental factors that may increase the risk of breast cancer. Leading the breast cancer awareness drive, the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe identified the following as risk factors of breast cancer, having a family history of breast cancer, excessive use of hormone replacement, exposure to radiation, constantly enduring high stress levels, have had cancer previously in one breast and smoking and drinking alcohol more than two drinks per day. As such the recurring theme is ‘early detection’ so as to deal with the problem before it cannot be contained.
Breast cancer screening refers to testing otherwise healthy women for breast cancer in an attempt to achieve an earlier diagnosis. The assumption is that early detection will improve outcomes. A number of screening tests have been employed including: clinical and self-breast exams, mammography, genetic screening, ultra sound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The Cancer Association of Zimbabwe states that in Zimbabwe the Breast Self-Examination (BSE) is encouraged since most of the lumps are discovered by the women themselves. The first Cancer centre in Zimbabwe was formed in 1959 in Bulawayo which is the main headquarters. The Cancer Centre in Harare was formed by a group of cancer survivors and volunteers in a bid to support each other morally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. The centre provides the community with information to promote a healthy lifestyle and to increase public awareness in the prevention and early detection of cancer.
The clarion call has been to get support from male counterparts, those affected are either one’s wife, mother, aunt, sister or grandmother. As such support and encouragement for the women to visit health facilities for screening for early detection to reduce cases of detection. The norm has always been one visiting the doctor when the highest degree of pain is felt and as such a culture of momentary check-ups even when there is no pain has never been ingrained in most individuals. Thus, not many people have seen the importance of getting checked for any potential maladies as the assumption is if there is no pain therefore one is healthy which tragically has seen a lot realising the degree of the advancement of the cancer late. Awareness continues despite one month dedicated to it and it is yet to reach even the remotest of areas in the country as those communities are not spared by breast cancer.
Preventing breast cancer
About a third of the most common cancers, including breast cancer can be prevented by eating a varied and healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and regular physical activity. It is encouraged to eat a diet containing whole foods that a naturally grown and high in fibre. It is also important to avoid refined foods and highly processed foods as they are high in fats, sugars and salts. Instead concentrate on whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish. Also avoid being overweight or obese by exercising regularly at least five (5) times a week for more than 30 minutes.
Alcohol intake must be reduced, whilst tobacco smoking, sniffing or chewing are to be avoided at all cost. Also avoid chemical exposure such as pesticides. Managing stress effectively is another important aspect in the prevention of breast cancer as well as other cancers. Getting involved in relaxation classes and stress management techniques is one way of achieving this. Breast feeding is a protective factor- this is a common practice in Zimbabwe and must be encouraged.
Did you know?
The pink ribbon is an international symbol of breast cancer awareness. Pink ribbons, and the colour pink in general, identify the wearer or promoter with the breast cancer brand and express moral support for women with breast cancer.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Photo Credit :google image /illustration