Do not ignore early signs of breast cancer amidst the COVID-19 infection – Expert tells Nigerian women

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By Abujah Racheal

Abuja, Oct. 20, 2020 Dr Joseph Ibe, a Radiologist, has called on Nigerian women not to ignore early signs of breast cancer amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic outbreak in the country.

Ibe told journalists on Tuesday in Abuja, that early diagnosis is the only way to change the grim story of suffering and mortality due to the deadly disease.

“A diagnosis of cancer no longer places individuals in a collectively stigmatized category. Rather, the potential stigmatization of cancer depends largely on whether a patient’s identity is threatened by the diagnosis.

“Cancer remains a public health priority, one in two women and one in three men will develop cancer in their lifetimes. COVID-19 has halted trials and paused researches,” he said.

The expert said that as the virus continues to burden healthcare systems around the globe, Nigerian women cannot ignore its impact on non-COVID patients.

“The treatment of diseases like breast cancer that largely depends on early diagnosis of its symptoms has clearly taken a backseat. Why? Patients are wary of visiting a medical facility for fear of getting infected with the virus.

“That said, these facts are particularly alarming in case of breast cancer as it is the most common type of cancer, accounting for 14 percent of cancers in women,” he said.

Ibe said that when breast cells grow uncontrollably, it could lead to breast cancer. They are of various types, depending on the cells that turn into cancer.

“Breast cancer can develop in any of the three parts of the breast ducts (responsible for carrying milk to nipples), lobules (milk-producing glands) and connective tissue (which is the intervening matrix). Most cancers of the breast start in the lobules. The cells from the breast can spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body,” he said.

The expert lamented that the problem with breast cancer is that the symptoms are silent.

“For a lot of people, there are no warning signs at all. Hence, early diagnosis and screening are critical in improving breast cancer outcomes and survival rates.

“According to research reports, 90 percent of breast cancer cases are the ones detected by women themselves. 85-90 percent of breast cancers are sporadic and developed due to acquired gene damage, while 10 to 15 percent are due to an abnormality inherited from parents.

“The factors associated with the sporadic development of the cancer are increasing in age, beginning of menstrual cycle at a younger age, starting menopause at an older age, having your first child at an older age and drinking of alcohol,” he said.

Ibe said that women should self-examine themselves to look for unfamiliar signs like nipple pain or retraction, a lump in the breast or their armpits, changes in the shape or size of the breast, dimpling of the skin and a rash or discharge from the nipple.

He however, said that as breast cancer burden continues to pose a threat to women’s health, there is a need for the government to create awareness and conduct screening programmes to fight the burden to expand breast cancer care for Nigerian women.

“Lack of awareness, asymptomatic nature of the disease in the earlier stage, minimal access to diagnostic facilities and social cultural attitudes are the reasons why implementation of the screening programmes for breast cancer in the country has not been very successful.

“It becomes even more imperative in times that the country is fighting the COVID-19 which has restricted a lot of women’s access to non-COVID-19 treatments,’’ he stressed.

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