Cancer starts when cells begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancerous and can spread to other parts of the body.
Breast cancer is a malignant tumour that starts in the cells of the breast. The disease occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get it, too.
Sadly, breast cancer is killing more women, irrespective of age, right now. Interestingly, it is also the type of cancer that has the highest rate of survival. But for that to happen, it depends on the woman.
Oncologists (cancer care specialists) note that the diagnosis of breast cancer starts with the patient who is observant and able to take action when necessary.
Professor of Oncology and Radiation at the College of Medicine, University Of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Ifeoma Okoye, notes that a major reason why women who had breast cancer in the past died, in spite of access to treatment, is late presentation of their cases at the hospital.
Okoye explains that the majority of the cases of breast cancer in the country are often detected at a later stage when and recovery is impossible.
She attributes this trend to poor awareness and education on the part of the women, resulting in failure to recognise the signs and symptoms of the disease at an early stage.
For instance, a recent survey by a non- governmental association, Sebeccly Cancer Care and Support Centre, in various communities in Nigeria using several case studies scored Nigerian women low on their knowledge of breast cancer prevention and awareness efforts.
A 2012 survey conducted revealed that more than 80 per cent of Nigerian women were not aware of the symptoms of breast and cervical cancer.
The experts blamed poor incorporation of breast health and screening into maternal health services for the widespread ignorance among Nigerian women.
Okoye says, “There is a need to re-invigorate the public’s basic knowledge on breast cancer. They must know that this is a disease that you can prevent and survive if it is detected early. When a woman comes at an advanced stage, survival is 98 per cent. Why? The cancer has already spread to other vital organs of the body, including the chest, liver and the kidney.
“At this stage, the only treatment we can give is palliative aimed at reducing the pain and prolonging lives. It is not curative.
“If we had detected the lump or tumour 10 years before it became cancerous and took it out through surgery, the patient has helped us to prevent a maternal death; to keep a family from falling apart because most of the time, the survival of a child and a family depends on the woman.”
Losing one’s breast to cancer is a very traumatic experience for any woman. The breast, no doubt, is the true essence of a woman. It gives her form and any woman should do everything to keep it healthy and in good shape by preventing breast cancer.
However, doctors note that when cancerous cells are detected late, the woman may lose them, hence the need for her to screen for breast cancer early.
Okoye, explains that breast lumps can by removed with minimal invasive surgery or through the laser technique when detected earlier, such that the breasts will still remain intact after treatment.
The oncologist recommends that women of all ages should examine their breast every month and report unusual changes to a doctor for medical examination.
She states, “It is important for every woman to perform self breast examination on herself every month. If you notice anything that is odd, especially a lump that hurts, you need to see the doctor.
“ If it is painless, you should also see the doctor. There are painless lumps that are also cancerous. Early detection starts in your youth.
“Breast cancer is no longer a disease of the old. We have seen young women with breast cancer before. That is why every mother should teach their female children how to do self breast examination.”
Okoye adds that eating healthy foods and avoiding a diet that could predispose one to cancer is another preventive strategy, “Cancer is preventable if we are mindful of what we eat,”
Also, a nutritionist, Mr. Paul Nnanna, says that one can reduce one’s risk of breast cancer and other forms of cancer by adopting a good diet.
Nnanna notes that the quantity of water one consumes can either predispose or reduce ones risk of getting cancer .
According to Nnanna, poor water intake causes the body cells to lose 56 per cent of water and increases the accumulation of waste, which cannot be passed out since there is no water in the body.
He states that a situation where acidic waste is not excreted from the body, it is likely to encourage the growth of cancer tumours in the body.
Nnanna adds, “Acid is responsible for 80 per cent of diseases, such as cancer and drinking enough water will prevent accumulation of waste in the body. Water should be taken adequately in order to build the immune system to become resistant to cancer.
“A diet free of sugary drink, processed foods, such as biscuits and pastries; white sugar, white flour, white rice and white salt would help reduce chances of getting the diseases. Eat food as naturally as possible, drink lots of water and avoid stripping nutrients contained in food by overcooking them.”