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Breast cancer takes no break when November rolls

 Breast cancer is a type of cancer that affects the breast, mostly in women. [iStockphoto]

The just-ended month of October felt different for each of us - some wore pink to mark the Breast Cancer Awareness month, some felt grief, and others quietly observe the month. But breast cancer doesn't take a break when November rolls even as the pink ribbons of October fade away.

Anyone who has suffered breast cancer, or has suffered alongside a loved one knows the anguish and helplessness that trail the diagnosis. Breast cancer is currently the most common cancer globally, accounting for 12.5 per cent of all new annual cancer cases worldwide. With this comes the immense human and economic impact of the disease, and the understanding that the best weapon in overcoming breast cancer is the ability to stop it from occurring in the first place.

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that affects the breast, mostly in women. Both men and women can get breast cancer though it is rare in men. Here in Kenya, seven women die every day as a result of breast cancer, and according to the National Cancer Control Programme, it's the leading type of cancer in Kenya with an estimated 6,799 cases annually.

Even though breast cancer is largely preventable and treatable if detected early, nearly 70 per cent of breast cancer cases in Kenya are diagnosed late when chances of curative treatment are low.

These worrying facts make it more important for women in Kenya to be aware of their breast health to be able to act quickly if changes occur. Awareness of breast cancer risk and symptoms should be public knowledge, just as we know what to look out for when someone has the flu or Covid-19. The more we know about breast cancer, the better the chances of detecting abnormalities before cancer develops or detecting cancer in its early stages when treatment has its highest potential for success.

As every public health professional knows, on a population level, the only way to substantially reduce incidence and mortality for any disease is through prevention. The reality of breast cancer lies somewhere between the public health ideal of perfect prevention. Current research suggests that at least half of cancer cases-estimates range from 30 per cent to upward of 70 per cent-could be prevented by applying what we already know.

Thus, if the breast cancer burden in terms of reduced mortality and morbidity is to be achieved, there is a dire need to strengthen awareness levels than what is prevalent and also improvement in education.

We tamed Covid-19 infections with sanitation and vaccines, abetted by antibiotics. Cancer is a different story. Even today, it continues to occupy our collective imagination as the king of terrors. Put simply, cancer must be framed not just as a curable disease but equally as a preventable one.

Breast health awareness should include public health and professional medical education on the risk factors and symptoms of breast cancer and the importance of seeking medical evaluation for breast concerns. Collaboration with cancer survivors, advocacy, and community groups is crucial for the effective creation and dissemination of breast health awareness messages.

-The writer is the Public Communications Officer, Pharmacy and Poisons Board.

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