First, it was her left breast that was removed. Now the tumour has affected the other breast and doctors say in a matter of months it will be cut off as well. Mastectomy is the only hope of living a less painful life for Catherine Nzoba, a 32-year old woman.
Incidentally, Catherine’s case would have been different if she had gone to the hospital for treatment three years ago when she discovered a lump in her breast. But instead of seeking medical advice early, she kept the discovery to herself and resorted to seeking only spiritual solution to her problem.
Today, Catherine lives in pain and agony but still conceals her health condition from her friends and colleagues for fear of stigmatisation. She bears the nagging pain all alone and regrets that if she had known, she would have started treatment early.
Catherine’s case is one of the many cancer cases that would have been made less grievous if early medical advice was sought. Experts say early detection of cancer helps in its successful treatment.
Cancer is a leading cause of death around the world. To create awareness about this deadly disease, different days and months are set aside by The World Health Organisation, (WHO), for different types of cancer.
On February 4 every year, WHO supports International Union Against Cancer to promote ways to ease the global burden of cancer. In the same vein, the month of October every year is chosen worldwide to promote breast cancer awareness campaign among women and men.
Breast cancer awareness month is an annual international health campaign organised by major breast cancer charities to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its causes, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.
The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer. It is also a prime opportunity to remind women to examine their breasts for early detection.
The increasing global focus on breast cancer is because it is the second most common type diagnosed in women after skin cancer and the second cause of death in women after lung cancer.
There are about 1.38 million new cases and 458,000 deaths from breast cancer each year, according to WHO’s report. Records also show that every year breast cancer kills more women in Nigeria than any other form of cancer.
The majority of deaths occur in low and middle income countries, where most women with breast cancer are diagnosed in late stages due mainly to lack of awareness on early detection, barriers to health services and other factors.
Men are not left out of the disease as record shows that one out of every one thousand men is diagnosed with breast cancer.
Why are women afraid of being screened for breast cancer? A breast cancer survivor, Mrs. Emilia Samuel, said breast cancer is dreaded by women because it is a very expensive ailment to manage, coupled with the stigma attached to the disease.
She narrated a story of where a preacher was alleged to have said that breast cancer and other forms of cancer were punishment from God for evil deeds.
The programme coordinator of a non-governmental organization, Preventive Health Care Initiative, Dr. Dorothy Okoh, has this to say:
“For a woman, the breast is a symbol of beauty and womanhood, the phrase, breast cancer, therefore, is frightening and most women do not want to hear or talk about it. Most of our women are ignorant about the disease, and, therefore, seek medical attention very late when nothing much can be done”
She informed that breast cancer today is no longer an automatic death sentence but the key to survival depends on early detection, adding that when breast cancer is detected early and promptly treated, survival rate is increased.
The haematologist advised that to detect breast cancer, a woman needs to be breast health aware and carry out the following screening test routinely: breast self-examination, clinical breast examination, breast ultrasonography and mamography.
Similarly, a medical practitioner, Dr. Ephraim Ogbaji, said death cases from breast cancer can be drastically reduced if systems of promoting and protecting women’s health in Nigeria are improved upon.
He regretted that while HIV/AIDS infection and other killer diseases get adequate publicity and attention, breast cancer receives little attention and resources.
He advocated support from corporate organisations, especially by providing mammography centres in hospitals to make treatment less expensive for breast cancer patients.
A teacher, Miss Iminabo Tariah, says the key to ridding the society of breast cancer and other forms of cancer is education of the young people about the disease and its prevention.
She believes that if young people who are the future of the nation are aware of what they should do to prevent cancer and abide by it, cases of cancer will reduce drastically in the nearest future.
She asked mothers to properly advise their children on health issues and also pay attention to the diet of their family and pointed out that unhealthy living is a major cause of cancer.
She also called on the public, particularly women, to be supportive of fellow women who are suffering from cancer. “We should encourage each other, help each other, and be your sisters’ keeper because they are going through a lot emotionally and financially” she said.
As Nigeria joins other countries of the world to mark this year’s International Breast Cancer Month, experts advocate healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, improved personal hygiene, proper dieting, regular breast examination, regular pap smear and other practices which will help in curtailing the growing rate of breast cancer both among men and women.
They say though there is insufficient knowledge on the causes of breast cancer, if more women, particularly those in the rural areas, have adequate information about their health conditions and seek medical attention as at when due, the number of death cases from the disease will reduce thereby making Nigeria a healthier, happier society.