Let’s do more to tame breast cancer through awareness
Every October, the world observes the Breast Cancer Awareness Month 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 WHO, 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer last year, with 685,000 deaths.
In Kenya, breast cancer is the most diagnosed form of cancer with a yearly average of 6,000 new cases, accounting for 23 per cent of all female cancer cases in the country.
After cervical cancer, it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths followed by oesophageal, colorectal, and prostate cancer.
The high mortality rate from breast cancer is linked to factors such as late diagnosis.
Many with symptoms seek medical care when the disease is advanced thus worsening the prognosis.
Additionally, low levels of awareness about cancer, risk factors and ways to prevent and manage it is a primary reason for the rising incidence and prevalence of this debilitating illness.
Changing lifestyle patterns are another challenge. Health experts advocate the need for preventive measures such as regular physical exercise, weight control, avoidance of alcohol and tobacco, and healthy diet to tame breast cancer.
Routine screening has shown to reduce the risk of succumbing to the disease.
Early diagnosis of any cancer 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 and across the genders although women are at a higher risk than men.
Fortunately, in an increasingly digital society, it is now far easier to disseminate health information using mobile phones and other devices, than was previously the case.
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 lifestyle metrics such as 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.
We should promote use of digital platforms in preventive health while curbing misinformation on health issues.
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, which goes a long way in efforts towards prevention and early detection measures.
This year and going forward, we are keen on building on the gains of previous efforts aware this is a long-term journey.
We support the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal on good health and well-being, hence our commitment to combating cancer and other diseases.
But we are cognisant that even with elevated awareness as a preventive measure, access to quality and affordable health care remains a major challenge.
Many people cannot afford even the most basic medical care. Expanding universal health coverage is critical in ensuring that no-one is left behind.
Hence the need as a country, to invest more in cancer care infrastructure which is lacking in many health facilities. — The writer is acting Head of Corporate Business, UAP Old Mutual