October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month globally. Breast Cancer Awareness Month aims to promote screening and prevention of the disease. This year, we want to emphasize the importance of mammograms as the best screening tool to help detect breast cancer early.
Breast Cancer Statistics
Breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, accounting for 12.5% of all new annual cancer cases worldwide. It is also the most common cancer in women worldwide. There were more than 2.26 million new breast cancer cases in women, contributing 25.8% of the total number of new cases diagnosed in 2020. Breast cancer is the commonest cancer in women in Ghana accounting for 40% of cancers. The mortality rate from this disease is relatively high in Ghana and other developing countries. Although breast cancer is more common in women, men can also develop breast cancer. One percent of breast cancers occur in men.
Risk factors for Breast Cancer
The risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman, aging, ethnicity and a family history of breast cancer. Other risk factors include personal history of breast cancer, menstrual and reproductive history, and having dense breasts. These are genetic risk factors and are unavoidable. Avoidable risk factors include lack of exercise, drinking alcohol, being overweight, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and smoking.
Breast Cancer Screening
Mammography remains the gold standard screening tool for early detection of breast cancer. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can pick up breast lumps even before they are felt. It can detect small clusters of calcium known as microcalcifications. Regular mammograms can diagnose breast cancer early, sometimes up to 3 years before symptoms develop. Early diagnosis of breast cancer makes it easier to treat and reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer.
It is recommended that women 40 years and above follow the annual protocol for breast cancer screening: monthly self-examination of your breasts, or yearly breast examination by a doctor and annual mammograms.
Ultrasound scan is used to complement screening tests like mammograms but is not used as a screening test on its own. An ultrasound scan can differentiate abnormalities found on physical breast examinations and mammograms. It can determine if a breast lump is solid or cystic (filled with fluid). It cannot determine if a solid lump is cancerous.
Women aged 40 and above should have mammograms every 1 or 2 years. Healthy women who have no symptoms and no risk factors for breast cancer should equally have regular mammograms to detect breast cancer early. Women below the age of 40 who have a family history and risk factors for breast cancer should consult their doctor on the best screening plan for them.
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