Breast Cancer Month

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Considering October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN) has reminded all female Namibians to do their monthly self-breast examination for early detection of the disease. The Chief Executive Officer of CAN, Reinette Koegelenberg, revealed that breast cancer is the third worrisome cancer type in Namibia. The leading type is skin cancer followed by Kaposi sarcoma, which is mainly found in people infected with HIV/AIDS. Though there is more hope than ever for people affected by cancer, Koegelenberg says there is still much work to be done to promote early detection and help those suffering from the disease. Statistics show that in 2005, 179 women and two men were diagnosed with cancer of the breast in Namibia. However, “As more women have mammograms and with improved detection and treatment options, rates of new cases and deaths from breast cancer have leveled off,” the CEO assured. Koegelenberg explained that breast cancer is a malignant (cancerous) tumor that starts in cells of the breast. It occurs when cells of the breast grow and multiply in an uncontrolled manner. Though the exact cause still eludes scientists, the abnormal cell division appears to be the result of some mutation in the cell’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). A number of risk factors have been identified which could help women stay alert. One of them is that the risk of breast cancer increases with age; a 70- year-old woman is more vulnerable than a 40-year-old. Therefore, it is important that all women above 50 undergo regular breast check-ups. Family history is another risk factor for breast cancer. In families with a bad gene for breast cancer, around half of the female members develop the cancer, usually before 40 years of age. Often both breasts are affected. On the other hand, if one or two women out of 20 family members develop breast cancer and both are above 60, then this probably does not increase the risk of breast cancer. Reproductive factors have also been identified as one way a woman might know her status. A woman who has had her first child before the age of 23 has one-third the risk of breast cancer compared with a woman who has her first baby later. Breast-feeding for at least three months has a protective effect. The sooner cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the patient’s chances for a full recovery. For early detection, it is necessary that the person has regular medical check-ups and does self-examinations. Some warning signals that are associated with the early stages of breast cancer are dimpling of the skin or changes to breast texture or shape, changes in nipple shape or unexplained discharge, breast lumps or skin thickening and underarm tenderness or skin changes. Throughout October month, people are expected to wear a pink ribbon to honour survivors, remember those lost to the disease and to support the search for a cure. “The pink ribbon has become a powerful symbol to increase awareness about breast cancer,” said Koegelenberg. On Saturday, CAN will hold a hats, roses and champagne breakfast in celebration of the breast cancer month. Koegelenberg said that cancer is actually a curable disease provided it is detected early. Heavy consumption of alcohol and poor diet is likely to put one at risk of developing cancer.

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