Exclusive interview of Dr Uche Onwufor’s call for action in tackling breast cancer in Nigeria, please enjoy this highly educative piece
Dr. Onwufor Uche, a Fellow of the West African College of Surgeons and a member of the National Post Graduate College of Medicine is a practicing Obstetrician/Gynecologist with a passion for cancer prevention in women. He is the founder of the Gynae care Research and Cancer Foundation, Nigeria. Its mission is to carry out medical outreaches to create awareness about cancers, screen and treat women, train medical personnel to carry out screening and treatment services and reduce the burden of preventable cancers in women. A member of the Society of Gynecologist and Obstetricians of Nigeria and HPV Technical Working Group, Abuja, he advocates for cancer prevention in women and issues of reproductive health importance in this interview with WINIFRED OGBEBO.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is the commonest cause of cancer deaths in women and also the most common cause of cancer in Nigerian women between the ages of 45 and 55 years. One in eight women may die from breast cancer. It occurs when the cells of the breast starts forming in an abnormal way which leads to the formation of a tumor. One in every eight woman may develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
Breast cancer doesn’t affect female alone. Male breast cancer accounts for 1% of all cancer deaths in men.
What are symptoms/signs of breast cancer?
Majority of times, early breast cancers may not present with symptoms, if they were discovered as part of a breast screening programme.
However, symptoms which may indicate the possible presence of breast cancer include, presence of a breast lump (on one or both breasts), change in shape or size of the breast, skin changes, dimpling of the skin, bloody nipple discharge, lump around the axilla/arm pit.
Symptoms such as bone pains, difficulty breathing, yellowness of the eyes, abdominal swelling may indicate spread of the cancer to other parts of the body.
Note that breast pains or discomfort is not a sign of breast cancer.
How do I know if I am at risk of developing breast cancer?
Nobody knows what causes breast cancer. Breast cancer is not contagious, so you can’t get it by touching someone with it. However, certain factors are known to increase the chances of a woman developing it. They include: Increasing age above 60 years, history of breast cancer in a relative (mother, sister, and daughter), ladies who had their first menses before age 12 years and ladies who stopped menstruating after 55 years, women without kids, obese women, alcohol consumption and lack of physical activity. Some substances in the environment can also increase the risk.
However, it’s important to note that most women with these risk factors do not develop breast cancer and most women who develop breast cancers do not have risk factors.
How can I reduce my chances of having breast cancer?
Breast cancer can be prevented in many cases by regular breast examinations. Breast examinations will help pick up breast lumps. In women between the aged 20-39 years, monthly breast examination is encouraged, followed by breast examination by trained medical personnel every 3 years. After age 40 years, breast examination should be carried out by health personnel yearly. Women aged 40 years should also have a mammogram every 2 years. Mammograms are x-ray pictures of the breast.
The aim is to pick up the disease at an early stage and treat it. In women with abnormal breast findings, biopsy (specimen) can be taken to check if the cells are cancerous. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is also useful in making a diagnosis of breast cancer.
What are the treatment modalities for women with breast cancer?
Several treatment modalities are available for women with breast cancer depending on the stage of the disease. Surgery is the most common treatment modality for breast cancer. Surgery may be in the form of mastectomy (removal of the breast) or lumpectomy (removal of the lump).
Other forms of treatment include chemotherapy using anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells, radiotherapy using high energy rays to kill the cancer cells, hormone therapy and biological therapy.
These treatment forms are to help prolong the life of the patient. They are not curative.
Can I have breast reconstruction done after removal of my breast?
Most women who have surgery for breast cancer have options for breast reconstruction. Breast reconstruction may be done through implants or the woman may choose to wear breast prosthesis. Some may decide to do nothing about it. In Nigeria, majority of the women with breast cancer cannot afford to pay for their treatment, not to talk about breast reconstruction
What is the role of alternative medicine in treatment of breast cancer?
A lot of our clients with breast cancers resort to alternative medicine because of the high cost of managing breast cancers at the tertiary centers; lack of facility at the centers and shortage of man power. Alternative medicine is the use of this form of treatment instead of the standard treatment.
Acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal products, vitamins or special diets, visualization, meditation, and spiritual healing are types of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
While some women feel better with this kind of treatment, some types may cause harmful changes in the body.
Majority of the drugs may work as supplements with no recommended dosages.
What support do women with breast cancer get?
There’s an urgent need for the relevant government agencies and other CSOs to support women with breast cancers. Most women with this disease are left with their families to handle the huge financial burden of this disease. Most times our radiotherapy centers are not working. There’s no support for them in terms of reduced cost of treatment, better care and follow up.
What’s your foundation doing to increase breast cancer awareness and screening?
The Gynae Care Research and Cancer Foundation is working closely with religious organizations to increase awareness about the dangers of breast cancer and need for early detection through regular breast examinations. Women and girls are taught how to examine their breasts and those with breast lumps are offered surgery to take it out.
Source: Leadership newspaper