Breast cancer is now the number one cancer in the world.
In the last year, breast cancer has overtaken lung cancer as the world’s mostly commonly-diagnosed cancer, according to statistics released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
Here in Nigeria, it has been and remained the number one cancer in terms of incidence and mortality.
We do not seek to alarm but rather to educate. More and more women (and a few men) are coming down with breast cancer and in many cases, they are younger, with more aggressive disease. Majority have no family history of breast cancer and are the first to have it in their family.
We must take personal responsibility for our breast health by educating ourselves on the risk factors of this disease, actively seek ways to reduce our risk of developing it and taking our breast screening serious.
Some risk factors for breast cancer are things you cannot change, such as being a woman, getting older or inheriting certain gene changes. Common risk factors for breast cancer include;
• Being a woman. However, although rare, men can also have breast cancer.
• Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age; however young women do get breast cancer.
• Taking hormones. Certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) have been found to raise breast cancer risk. Also, some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) taken during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer.
• Certain chemicals. Many of the everyday products we use; including skincare products, cleaning products such as detergents, plastics, e.t.c contain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These chemicals affect female hormones particularly the hormone estrogen. This may increase one's risk of developing breast cancer.
• Family history of breast cancer. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either side of the family who have had breast or ovarian cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk. That being said majority of women who have breast cancer are the first to develop it in their families.
• Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
• Being overweight or obese after menopause. Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.
• Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.
• Drinking alcohol. Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with alcohol intake.
• Inheriting certain genetic changes. About 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning that they result directly from gene changes (mutations) passed on from a parent.
As women and men, we must be better informed and take the right actions regarding our health.
Do your monthly Breast Self Examinations. If you notice anything outside your normal, get it checked by a doctor immediately.
If you are 40 and above, you should have annual mammograms. Breast MRIs are also recommended for women with dense breasts. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should speak to your doctor about starting Mammograms earlier and having a personalised breast screening plan.