Breast Cancer Affects Us All Equally

GALZ, An association of LGBTI People in Zimbabwe, brings you this health and safety notice as part of worldwide efforts to raise awareness around October, Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Why raise awareness?

What makes breast cancer a pertinent issue is its prevalence in male, female and non-binary persons, as all people are born with mammary glands. However, breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide. According to WHO, there are about 1.38 million new cases and 458 000 deaths from breast cancer each year (IARC Globocan, 2008). Traditionally a pink ribbon has been worn as a symbol to raise awareness. There is a higher survival rate if people are made aware of the risk factors and symptoms of the disease.

What is breast cancer?

The human body is made up of billions of cells, that make up tissues, that make up organs. Generally, these cells are healthy, but they can mutate because of exposure to certain external environmental factors, such as ultraviolet light and chemical carcinogens (such as those in toxic smoke particles). Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and begin to destroy other body tissue and organs. It can affect one area, or, it can spread to other parts of the body as cells travel through the blood. Breast cancer is known as gomarara repazamu in chiShona and umkhuhlane wemvukuzane yebele in siNdebele. It occurs when abnormal cells start to attack cells in the breast and/or chest area.

What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

While cancer can strike anyone, risk factors for breast cancer include being above the age of 55, which applies to both men and women, excessive consumption of alcohol, early menstruation or late menopause, giving birth at an older age (above 35) and taking of certain hormone treatments. Genetics may also play a role. The other risk factors include obesity and smoking.

How is it tested and treated?

Early detection saves lives. Firstly, it is important to check one’s own breasts often. It is advised that the best time for women to do a monthly self-breast exam is about 3 to 5 days after your period starts, and to do it at the same time every month. Mammography is an X-ray that can help detect any abnormality in the breasts. It is ideally done once a year.

In cancer care, doctors specializing in different areas of cancer treatment to create a patient’s overall treatment plan. A treatment plan is a summary of your cancer and the planned cancer treatment. Surgeons are doctors who perform operations. Medical oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with medicine. Radiation oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with radiation. Cancer care teams include a variety of other health care workers, such as physicians, oncology nurses, pharmacists, counsellors, nutritionists and surgeons.
Breast cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. People with breast cancer often get more than one kind of treatment such as:
• Surgery or an operation where doctors cut out cancer tissue.
• Chemotherapy uses special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
• Hormonal therapy blocks cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.
• Biological therapy. Works with your body’s immune system to help it fight cancer cells or to control side effects from other cancer treatments.
• Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancer cells.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
Symptoms may include presence of a lump in the breast, pain in the breast, redness of skin on the breast, swelling in areas near the breasts, dimpling of the breast skin, discharge from nipple other than breast milk, change in the shape of the nipple and swelling or a lump under the arm. In some cases, these may not be the sign of breast cancer but any of these signs should be reported to the doctor immediately. Cancer used to conventionally present in women and men over 40, but it has become important for people to perform self-checks from the age of 25.
How do you check your breasts?

It’s a good idea to get to know what’s normal for your breasts. Know your own body well such that you can recognise any changes. A Breast Self-Exam is a way for you to check your breasts for changes, such as lumps or thickenings. You’ll look at and feel both breasts. You can lie down on your back, stand in front of a mirror or be standing in the shower.
Step 1: With your arms relaxed by your sides, look for any changes in size, shape, colour or position, or any breast skin changes like dimpling or sores, or discoloration.
Step 2: Check your nipples and look for any sores, peeling, change in their direction or for discharged fluid.
Step 3: Place your hands on your hips and press down firmly to tighten the chest muscles beneath your breasts. Turn from side to side so you can look at the outer part of your breasts.
Step 4: Remember to lift them and look at the border underneath them.
Step 5: Raise one arm behind your head to spread out the breast tissue. Use the flat part of your fingers from the other hand to press gently into the breast. Follow an up-and-down pattern, moving from bra line to collarbone (or round in an anti-clockwise direction). Continue the pattern until you have covered the entire breast.

Let’s Talk More

Sharing knowledge is key to raising awareness of breast cancer, in order to ultimately reduce its prevalence. A sense of community is also important to spread accurate sexual heath information. The LGBTI community in Zimbabwe has its interests represented by various civil society organisations, including GALZ, which has been in existence for 30 years.

GALZ is a voluntary membership-based organisation. Membership is open to anyone over 18 who believes in equality and justice for all, and the supports the rights of LGBTI persons. Every member must follow the Code of Conduct. GALZ has a resource centre in Masvingo which provides a safe space for LGBTI persons, access to information resources, legal aid, health care referrals, sexual health barriers and couunselling. Throughout the year, members can attend events, workshops, social events and learning activities at this centre. You can contact the GALZ Masvingo Resource Centre at 13 Rhus Ave, Rhodene. The Counsellor can be reached on 0783073042. Enquiries can also be sent to [email protected], to the WhatsApp hotline 0772210836 or via inbox on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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