Breast Cancer Awareness: Dr. Egesimba Pintos on Prevention, Signs and Symptoms.

For anyone who believes that breast cancer awareness is not essential in Nigeria, you are incredibly mistaken. According to World Health Organization, In 2020, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685 000 deaths globally. As of the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer.  Breast cancer occurs in every country of the world in women at any age after puberty but with increasing rates in later life. Breast cancer awareness is essential in Nigeria, but sadly not all women are aware of the signs and treatment, enabling it to spread faster. 

As an ovarian cancer survivor herself, Dr. Egesimba Pintos speaks on the need for regular breast cancer screening and intense awareness to educate people from all levels of life on the signs, symptoms, preventions, and treatments of breast cancer in Nigeria. 

Q: What is Breast Cancer?

Cancer is a disease condition in which abnormal cells divide and grow uncontrollably and have the ability to affect other cells and tissues around it. So breast cancer is this phenomenon occurring in the breast.

Q: Who gets breast cancer and is it genetic?

Breast cancer can be gotten by both men and women. But it is more common or prevalent in women. It is the most common malignancy/cancer in women worldwide. Breast cancer usually starts occurring in women of reproductive age. Yes, it has a genetic component but people can come down with it without any genetic predisposition.

Q: What are the symptoms of Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer has several symptoms but key or alarm symptoms that should make you seek a doctor’s opinion:

  • Swelling or lump in the breast or the armpit 
  • Discharge from the nipple other than breast milk especially if you see blood.
  • Pinching in / dimpling of the skin on the breast
  • Skin color changes to the breast( reddish/ darker or lighter)
  • Nipple retraction or the pain at the nipple
  • Changes in the size of the breast ( swelling)

Q: How essential is breast cancer screening?

Breast cancer screening is super essential. Both for men and women. For women, as soon as they start menstruating, they should develop the habit of checking their breasts usually 3 to 5 days after their periods. Older women usually above 40 are to get mammograms every 2 years. This is because early detection helps save lives.

Q:There has been a prevalence of breast lumps diagnosis among young ladies between the ages of 14-30, which begs the question, are lumps symptoms of breast cancer?

Yes, breast lumps are one of the symptoms of breast cancer but not all lumps are cancerous. Some lumps are what we call “functional”. For some women, it occurs during their menstrual cycle. Some women can also have an infection in the breast that can present as a lump.

Q:How can I lower my chances of getting breast cancer?

Well, breast cancer can happen to anyone,  but there are some things you can do to reduce the risk  of getting cancer:

  • Diet: it plays an important role, especially food high in antioxidants such as fruits, vegetables, and healthier fats.
  • Limit alcohol intake: high intakes of Alcohol increase the risk.
  • Be physically active.
  • Knowledge is power: know your risk. Find out about your family history ( history of breast cancer or cancers in general especially ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer), any genetics.
  • Reduce exposure to radiation. 
  • Regular checks: Everyone should learn how to conduct home tests by themselves. There are so many images and instructions on the internet. The trick is finding the one that works for you and doing the checks regularly. If you are in doubt, you can always check in with your doctor. 

Q:How would you describe the level of awareness of breast cancer in Nigeria today?

I would describe it as Fair. More people are aware of breast cancer and some of the signs but fewer people are aware of the causes and how it occurs and what to do if you are diagnosed with it, which we are hoping to change.

Q:How then can we as individuals spread awareness about breast cancer?

There are a number of things we can do, but I will mention a few.

  • We as individuals should get enough knowledge first which we can do by going online and getting information from accredited sources like the Center for Disease Control  (CDC), and World Health Organization (WHO) before speaking to people as we are in breast cancer awareness month. 
  • Raising awareness by wearing the pink ribbon, generating conversations during and after the Breast Cancer Awareness Month is also an important route. 
  • Organize and volunteer with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to speak to the general public and organize screenings. 
  • Even actions as simple as talking to your family, friends, and colleagues about how to conduct a breast examination and the symptoms of breast cancer will go a long way in creating awareness.

Q: In your opinion, do you think the failing healthcare system in Nigeria contributes to the mortality rates of breast cancer patients?

It contributes to it to an extent. First off, I think poor awareness about breast cancer contributes a lot more as people usually present at the late stages but in terms of the failing healthcare system, it makes it difficult for people to access care. Access in terms of cost of medications or further treatments, also access to follow-up care due to the side effects of some of the medications, minimal presence of the screening and treatment facilities

Q:There is the issue of the stigma surrounding breast cancer, how do we break this barrier?

As the popular saying goes, Information is power.  increased awareness of the causes of breast cancer and its prognosis can help break this barrier. It is also important that people are educated that breast cancer when detected early is not a death sentence.

Q:Finally, how can the government and private bodies help to get better access to screening and treatments for breast cancer?

Well, the government and private companies are trying their best now with centers present in the different states of the country. They can subsidize the prices of the medications used for treatment. Also, they can train more primary health care facilities which are present in every local government on breast self-examination and have a referral system to these screening centers. Finally, start the conversation and eradicate the stigma around breast cancer so people won’t keep quiet and actually come out and get screened. 

Dr. Egesimba Pintos is the care coordinator at Lagoon Hospital, Ikoyi, Lagos Nigeria. With an interest in Preventive Health and Nutrition as a means of optimizing health in the general populace, Dr. Egesimba Pintos holds a medical degree from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

Still in the spirit of Pinktober, check out this article for Breast Cancer Warriors: STYLE TIPS FOR BREAST CANCER WARRIORS

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