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Debunking breast cancer myths

Breast cancer pink ribbon

The breast cancer awareness month is not simply about research and mammograms. It’s about concentrating our efforts into educating women and men. The sooner they know, the faster professionals can diagnose breast cancer or rule it out. Come along with us as we debunk a few myths about breast cancer.

Breast cancer awareness October history

It started with Charlotte Haley, a 68-year old woman in the Us who discovered her mother, daughter and sister all had breast cancer. To raise awareness, she began making peach ribbons and attached small cards with all information necessarily to bring awareness and ensure nobody would go through that again. She also brought to people’s attention that only a small amount of the budget of National Cancer institute was going to breast cancer.

And then Pinkoctober was born…

Fast forward two years later, Evelyn Lauder of Estee Lauder got hold of the idea. Charlotte Haley refused for her to use the peach ribbon because she thought the cause would be lost if it was given to a big corporation. Their lawyers settled that Evelyn could use the ribbon if it was pink and not peach and that’s how the pink ribbon was launched. She’s the reason behind October being dedicated to breast cancer awareness, after recognizing the urgency behind the matter.

Genetics or not?

After reading about Charlotte Haley’s family, you’re thinking breast cancer is genetic. Well only 10% of women have the gene mutation causing breast cancer. The other 90% are all at risk of getting breast cancer.

The BRCA gene (Breast Cancer) is the gene responsible for determining if a human will have breast cancer or not. Contrary to popular beliefs, everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2. They play a big role in fighting breast cancer. However, it’s the mutation in these genes that is responsible for breast cancer. When a BRCA gene is mutated, it’s no longer effective in preventing the development of breast cancer. Having the gene mutation also means it can be transferred to your children and grandchildren, and they can develop breast cancer rather early.

Don’t panic!

The only solution when you’ve noticed it runs in the family is to get regular screenings and learn how to examine yourself at home to avoid developing a lump in between check-ups.

The scary part about breast cancer is that it’s not painful, you could have a lump in your breast and not notice it until it’s too late. That’s why breast cancer awareness focuses on teaching women how to examine themselves.

Few figures

Breast cancer diagnostics.

Now, let’s give you a few numbers to refer to in order to understand breast cancer and how it can affect you:

  • 55-65% of women with BRCA1 will develop breast cancer in their lifetime
  • 45% of women with BRCA2 will develop breast cancer in their lifetime
  • 10% of women have the BRCA gene mutation
  • 90% of women are at risk of getting breast cancer in their lifetime
  • 1/8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime
  • Taking a birth control pill can slightly increase your risk of developing breast cancer BUT the risk goes back to normal 5 years after being off birth control
  • If you’ve had a lump before (fibroadenoma), your risk of getting breast cancer may be slightly increased (0.2% approx.)  

A few myths…

The biggest part of breast cancer awareness month is to debunk myths about breast cancer. Everyone must be able to know the reality behind breast cancer, especially in the era of fake info and social media where the fake info spreads easily.

  • Roll-on deodorants do not cause breast cancer
  • Hair products being absorbed in the body cannot cause breast cancer. The research that has been conducted of the role of paraben in breast cancer has been inconclusive so far.
  • Most times if you find a lump in your breast, it’s most likely benign
  • Men also get breast cancer
  • A family history of breast cancer doesn’t necessarily mean you MUST get breast cancer
  • Mobile phones/electronics near your breast CANNOT cause breast cancer

How to examine yourself

Step 1 In front of mirror, lift your arms slowly and lock them behind your head. Watch how your breast lift themselves naturally. If one is slower than the other, you might notice a lump under there.

Step 2 Put your hands on your hips and arch your back to check if there’s no lump starting to form on your chest.

Step 3 With your left hand, examine your right breast with the flat part of your fingers not the tips. Just examine in your motion the entire breast. The breast being nodular, you will just fill the globes inside your breast if you use your fingertips. Whereas if there’s a lump, it will press against the flat part of your fingers. Lastly, use the fingertips to examine your underarms.

Step 4 With your right hand, examine your left breast the same way.

If you notice any lumps, consult a specialist for a proper diagnosis. Women over 40 should start having mammograms done regularly.

How to fight it?

To be honest, there’s no miracle lifestyle to fight breast cancer. Just make sure to have a healthy diet and exercise regularly. You can lower your chance of getting breast cancer, and lower your chances of getting cardiovascular diseases as well. One stone, two birds right!

Clinics doing screenings in Nairobi

Aga Khan University Hospital has breast cancer clinics. One of their doctors Dr Miriam Mutebi, a breast surgeon, will take her time in explaining everything step by step and answering all questions. She kindly helped us debunk all these myths.

Cancer Awareness Centre Kenya: CACK is a non-profit organization that focuses on prevention and early detection of cancer. They conduct events dedicated to breast cancer awareness and screenings during the whole month of October.  Make sure to check them out.

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