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Debunking five breast cancer myths Eve woman



 The development of cancer is not related to how big your cup size is (Shutterstock)

Even though there is increased advocacy for education and mass screening for breast cancer at the community level, the rate of breast cancer screening in Kenya is still low.

It has been documented by scientists from AMPATH Oncology Institute that over 86 percent of women in Western Kenya alone did not undergo any form of breast cancer screening in the previous years.

In fact, the National Cancer Screening Guidelines of 2018 highlight that the rate of breast cancer screening in Kenya is about 5 percent; indicating that there are factors that hinder the uptake of screening among women.

Many of these factors lie in myths and misconceptions about this disease. We take a look at some:

Women with a small cup size are unlikely to get breast cancer

The breast tissue comprises of milk ducts, milk glands, dense breast tissue and fatty tissue — also known as non-dense breast tissue. Breast cancer normally develops outside the non-dense tissues.

This means that the development of cancer is not related to how big your cup size is but rather the density of the breast.

However, tumors in women with a higher percentage of dense breast tissue may miss to be detected in standard mammography since they appear like the breast tissue itself.

High fat tissue may contribute to the development of cancer if it is related to higher estrogen levels, obesity and elevated risk of breast cancer. One can also change their odds of developing cancer by maintaining a healthy weight and consuming a balanced diet. However, healthy living may not entirely eliminate the risk.

If you cannot feel a lump, you are safe

Most women skip breast cancer screening because they assume they are safe if they cannot feel a lump upon self-examination. It is important to note that a mammogram can detect breast cancer way before a lump can be felt.

Women are encouraged to self-examine on a regular basis to familiarise themselves with their bodies and to easily take note of what is not normal in their breasts.

Since some lumps are usually benign, it is always good for the mind when concerns about any abnormalities are medically addressed.

If my mum had it, I am definitely going to get it

Renowned oncologist, Dr Andrew Odhiambo explains that this may not necessarily be the case. There are cancers that are caused by sporadic mutations that are associated with environmental factors such as use of tobacco and exposure to carcinogenic chemicals.

“The truth is only 5-10 percent of most cancers are actually inherited from one’s parents.” What this means is that most breast cancer cases have no hereditary correlation.

 Regardless of a hereditary disposition, screening is important for women (Shutterstock)

Additionally, many assume that they will not get breast cancer since they have no knowledge of family history of the disease.

Dr Odhiambo highlights that 2 out of 3 women diagnosed with breast cancer today were not able to identify any of the traditional risk factors that are known. “So, the fact that no one in your family has cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot get cancer and doesn’t mean that your risk is low,” he adds.

The bottom line is that regardless of a hereditary disposition, screening is important for women over the age of 40. Women with a family history should start evaluations earlier.

Herbal medicine and “super foods” cure cancer

Dealing with cancer and its treatment can drive anyone to seek any possible means that provide hope to make it go away or make the healing process a little bit more bearable.

As much as some herbs and supplements are rich in some nutrients and antioxidants that bring numerous health benefits, there is still no well-conducted research that puts herbal products as an alternative to conventional medicine in the treatment of breast cancer. 

Dr Odhiambo warns that some herbal products can cause damage to the liver and other internal organs. They may also interfere with chemotherapy and radiotherapy; eventually causing more harm to the patient.

“I encourage most of my patients to tell their doctors what supplements or herbs they are taking so that we can be able to plan their treatment effectively and avoid unnecessary damage,” he adds.

IVF increases breast cancer risk

There are concerns that ovulation induction for in-vitro fertilisation could increase reproductive hormones leading to a possible association with estrogen receptor positive types of breast cancer. 

A 2019 review published on the Front Endocrinol journal, no definitive relationship between the use of fertility drugs and breast cancer.

According to Fertility Point Kenya, fertility preservation can be done in women who may need to preserve their fertility due to a medical condition such as cancer.

Once they are done with treatment and recovered fully, they can successfully embark on the journey to motherhood.

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