Breast Cancer & African Women
by Nesie Abdulia
When I initially started my run for Miss Africa U.S.A, my platform was the rehabilitation of the H.I.V positive population in Africa. I, like many, view H.I.V as a major epidemic in Africa. I had this conversation with my Aunt, who drew my attention to a serious disease that kills African women at an alarming rate. There is no official statistics on how many African women die from breast cancer but it is known that about 40,000 women die from breast cancer a year in America where this is adequate health screenings and care. One can only imagine how many women are affected in third world nations.
Recent findings indicate that a high percentage of African mothers who still care for their younger children are negligent when it comes to their own health. Due to this and inadequate use of mammography screening for early detection of breast cancer and the lack of resources, African women may well be one of the most vulnerable groups affected by breast cancer.
African women are more likely than women living in more advanced countries to die from breast cancer. Tumors are found at a later, more advanced, stage so there are fewer treatment options. Inability to get health care and lack of follow up after getting abnormal test results is one factor that contributes to death. Moreover, many Africans have distrust for their country’s government health care system, which generally do not have the medical equipments needed to carry out all necessary test required for treatment. There is also an outrageous belief by some that mammograms are not needed because cancer is a “White man’s disease”, a mentality that spreads through ignorance. Lack of education in this regard, has greatly hampered efforts to reduce cancer in Africa as a whole. In the more advanced countries, staging systems have been developed to allow doctors to characterize the extent to which a particular cancer has spread, to enable the doctor and patient make informed decisions concerning treatment options. Treatment options for breast cancer may involve surgery (removal of the cancer alone or, in some cases, mastectomy) radiation therapy, and/or hormonal therapy.
The best antidote to successful treatment of breast cancer is early detection which can be achieved by screening. Screening refers to tests and exams used to find a disease, such as cancer, in people who do not have any symptoms. Early detection means using an approach that allows earlier diagnosis of breast cancer than otherwise might have occurred. The goal of screening exams for early breast cancer detection is to find cancer early before it spreads. If going to the doctor is not an option, every woman needs to know how to perform the self breast exam. This can save lives.
Here are the five steps to the self Breast exam:
Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
Here’s what you should look for:
• Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and color
• Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling
If you see any of the following changes,
Bring them to your doctor’s attention:
• Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
• A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
• Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
Step 2: Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
Step 3: While you’re at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).
Step 4: Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter. Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.
Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your rib cage.
Step 5: Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in