October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I invite HIFA members to consider: How many women are aware of their risk of breast cancer, and what they can do to prevent it? How many men are aware that they too are at risk of breast cancer and, like women, should seek medical advice for a painless lump? How many frontline health workers have the information they need to appropriately advise, refer, diagnose and manage breast cancer?

Here is the WHO fact sheet on breast cancer, with extracts below.

In 2020, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685 000 deaths globally…

Approximately half of breast cancers develop in women who have no identifiable breast cancer risk factor other than gender (female) and age (over 40 years).  Certain factors increase the risk of breast cancer including increasing age, obesity, harmful use of alcohol, family history of breast cancer, history of radiation exposure, reproductive history (such as age that menstrual periods began and age at first pregnancy), tobacco use and postmenopausal hormone therapy.

Behavioural choices and related interventions that reduce the risk of breast cancer include:
– prolonged breastfeeding;
– regular physical activity;
– weight control;
– avoidance of harmful use of alcohol;
– avoidance of exposure to tobacco smoke;
– avoidance of prolonged use of hormones; and
– avoidance of excessive radiation exposure…

Breast cancer most commonly presents as a painless lump or thickening in the breast. It is important that women finding an abnormal lump in the breast consult a health practitioner without a delay of more than 1-2 months even when there is no pain associated with it. Seeking medical attention at the first sign of a potential symptom allows for more successful treatment…

Survival of breast cancer for at least 5 years after diagnosis ranges from more than 90% in high-income countries, to 66% in India and 40% in South Africa. Early detection and treatment has proven successful in high-income countries and should be applied in countries with limited resources where some of the standard tools are available. The great majority of drugs used for breast cancer are already on the WHO Essential Medicines List (EML).  Thus, major global improvements in breast cancer can result from implementing what we already know works…

The objective of the WHO Global Breast Cancer Initiative (GBCI) is to reduce global breast cancer mortality by 2.5% per year, thereby averting 2.5 million breast cancer deaths globally between 2020 and 2040… The three pillars toward achieving these objectives are: health promotion for early detection; timely diagnosis; and comprehensive breast cancer management.

By providing public health education to improve awareness among women of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and, together with their families, understand the importance of early detection and treatment, more women would consult medical practitioners when breast cancer is first suspected, and before any cancer present is advanced. This is possible even in the absence of mammographic screening that is impractical in many countries at the present time…