Let's do more to tame breast cancer

OPINION |

In October each year, the world observes Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The aim is to encourage more women and men to be proactive in preventing and combating the disease, a leading cause of human mortality across the world. Early detection and diagnosis have been proven to reduce deaths attributable to breast cancer.

According to the World Health Organisation, 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer globally last year, with 685,000 deaths. In Kenya alone, breast cancer is the most diagnosed form of cancer with 6,000 new cases each year, accounting for 23 per cent of all female cancer cases. After cervical cancer, it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Kenya followed by oesophageal, colorectal, and prostate cancer.

The high mortality rate from breast cancer is linked to factors such as late diagnosis. Many women with symptoms seek medical care when the disease is already advanced, thus worsening the prognosis. Additionally, low levels of awareness about cancer, risk factors and ways to prevent and manage have led to the rising incidence and prevalence of this debilitating illness.

Changing lifestyle patterns are another challenge. Health experts advocate the need for preventive measures like regular physical exercise, weight control, avoidance of alcohol and tobacco, and healthy diet to tame breast cancer. Routine screening has also been shown to reduce the risk of succumbing to the disease.

This is because diagnosing any form of cancer early vastly improves the chances of successful treatment and survival of the patient. Women with a family history of breast cancer are at greater risk of getting the disease. The risk also increases with age. It is advised that women aged 40-44 should start breast cancer screening.

The American Cancer Society says early detection leads to a 95-99 per cent survival rate in the first five years after diagnosis. A survey conducted among women in Kilifi  last year shows community-based health education interventions have significant impact in terms of taming the disease in the early stages.

We must therefore sustain effective breast cancer awareness strategies including improved breast health care. A simple X-Ray examination can reveal a lump in the breast that may or may not be cancerous, but it is important to get screened all the same. Breast cancer can affect anyone at any age, male or female although women are at a higher risk of developing the illness than men.

Fortunately, in an increasingly digital society, it is now far easier to disseminate health information using mobile phones and other devices. Promoting the use of digitised communication channels is one of the most effective public sensitisation and outreach platforms. There are many apps offering valuable health information and that enable users to track their lifestyle metrics like diet and exercise. These can be harnessed in enhancing awareness around cancer risks and critically, getting people to embrace lifestyle changes to keep cancer at bay.

At UAP Old Mutual, we have been at the forefront of championing greater awareness of breast cancer. The UAP Old Mutual Foundation runs medical camps with various partners to undertake screening of the disease.

Ms Gichohi is Ag Head of Corporate Business, UAP Old Mutual

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