Awareness is the key to dealing with breast cancer

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Breast cancer presents a substantial global health challenge, with a staggering annual burden of 12.5% of new cancer cases worldwide. This malignancy ranks as the most prevalent form of cancer and a leading cause of cancer-related deaths on a global scale. Alarming statistics reveal that over one million women receive a breast cancer diagnosis annually, and tragically, approximately 400,000 women succumb to this disease across the globe. The prevalence of cancer tends to be more pronounced in developed nations, but its impact is increasingly felt in low-to-middle-income countries (LMICs), exemplified by countries such as Pakistan.

Shedding light on this concerning issue, it is estimated that roughly 70% of breast cancer-related deaths occur in LMICs. The reasons for this stark reality are multifaceted, encompassing delays in diagnosis caused by persistent myths, misconceptions, and deeply rooted cultural beliefs. Additionally, a lack of diagnostic resources and healthcare infrastructure further compounds the issue. Notably, inadequate healthcare policies and guidelines for early detection and advancements in treatment modalities play a pivotal role in the disproportionate burden of breast cancer in LMICs.

The Asian continent, particularly countries like India and Pakistan, bears a heavy burden of breast cancer, with the highest reported prevalence. In Pakistan alone, a daunting figure of approximately 178,388 new breast cancer cases were registered in 2020, underscoring the urgency of addressing this public health crisis.

This dire situation is exacerbated by widespread misinformation surrounding the clinical presentation, diagnosis, and management of breast cancer. Such misinformation not only hinders early diagnosis but also fosters a negative doctor-patient relationship, impeding effective disease management. Consequently, these myths, misconceptions, and misinformation have been rightfully labeled as global risks. Amidst this challenging landscape, breast awareness emerges as a vital component of overall health and well-being, providing women of all ages with the tools they need to take control of their breast health. It involves becoming intimately familiar with one’s breasts, understanding their normal appearance and texture, and consistently monitoring them for any changes. By combining breast awareness with routine breast self-exams and clinical breast examinations, individuals can actively participate in the early detection of potential breast abnormalities, including lumps, and changes in size, shape, or texture, and thereby ensure prompt intervention when necessary.

The Crucial Role of Breast Cancer Awareness

“The key to beating breast cancer is early detection.” – Christine Teigen

  1. Early Detection: The most crucial aspect of breast awareness is early detection. Detecting breast abnormalities at an early stage significantly increases the chances of successful treatment and long-term survival for conditions such as breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected at an early localized stage, the 5-year survival rate is 99%.
  2. Personal Empowerment: By becoming familiar with their breasts, individuals take control of their health. This sense of empowerment can help reduce anxiety and stress associated with breast health concerns.
  3. Improved Health Outcomes: Regular breast self-exams and awareness can lead to the early detection of benign conditions, such as cysts or fibroadenomas, preventing unnecessary worry and medical procedures.

Breast Self-Exams: A Step-by-Step Guide

Breast self-exams are a vital part of breast awareness and should be conducted monthly. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to perform a breast self-exam:

“Breast self-exams are a powerful tool in the fight against breast cancer. They put you in control of your health.” – Karen Kaplan

  1. Choose a Regular Time: Select a consistent time each month to conduct your breast self-exam. Most women prefer to do this after their menstrual period when breasts are less tender.
  2. Visual Inspection: Stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. Examine your breasts for any changes in size, shape, or symmetry. Note any skin changes, dimpling, or changes in the nipple or areola.
  3. Raise Your Arms: Raise your arms and inspect your breasts again, observing for any visual changes.
  4. Manual Examination: Lie down on a flat surface with a pillow under your right shoulder and place your right hand behind your head. Use the pads of your three middle fingers on your left hand to examine your right breast in a circular, up-and-down, or wedge-like pattern. Apply different levels of pressure to feel the breast tissue.

Repeat for the Left Breast: Repeat the same examination steps for your left breast.

  • Nipple and Areola: Gently squeeze each nipple to check for any discharge. Examine the areola for changes.
  • Check Armpits: Don’t forget to check the lymph nodes in your armpit for swelling or tenderness.

Clinical Breast Examinations

In addition to breast self-exams, clinical breast examinations conducted by a healthcare professional are an essential part of breast awareness.

“Clinical breast examinations serve as a valuable complement to breast self-exams. They provide a professional’s perspective on your breast health.” – Dr. Emily Walker, MD

  • Frequency: Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam at least every three years. Women 40 and older should have one annually.
  • Medical Expertise: A healthcare professional is trained to recognize subtle changes and potential concerns that may be missed during self-exams.

Mammograms

“Mammography is the gold standard in early breast cancer detection.” – Dr. Jennifer Lee, Radiologist

Mammograms are another critical aspect of breast health, especially for women over 40. A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray that can detect breast abnormalities, even before they can be felt.

Regular mammograms can help detect breast cancer in its early stages when treatment is most effective.

Breast cancer awareness is a crucial part of maintaining overall health and well-being. It empowers individuals to take charge of their breast health, detect abnormalities early, and improve their chances of successful treatment.

“Knowledge and awareness are our most potent weapons in the fight against breast-related health concerns.” – Susan Smith

Through regular breast self-exams, clinical examinations, and mammograms, women can significantly reduce the risk of breast-related health issues. Embrace breast awareness as a vital component of your healthcare routine, and encourage others to do the same because knowledge and awareness are key in the fight against breast-related health concerns.

The writer is a country lead at a multinational healthcare company. She can be reached at murklarik@gmail.com

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