Back in 1991 when the Pink Ribbon was chosen and adopted as the international symbol for Breast Cancer awareness, it was chosen along the lines of femininity, representing hope and as a way for breast cancer survivors to embrace the future.
This year, the media has been relentlessly informing the public that breast cancer does not only affect women but men too, since men also have breasts.
An average adult man has a breast equivalent to that of a girl who has not yet reached puberty. Men become more susceptible to breast cancer as they grow older due to various factors, including exposure to radiation, alcoholism and encounters with oestrogen, which could be ingested in the form of medication for other ailments.
Like in females, the diagnosis of breast cancer in men can be detected through self examination and if lumps are found further tests can be run at the hospital to establish the nature of the growths.
Apart from lumps, other symptoms include nipple discharge, swelling of the breasts and nipple retraction.
Local oncologist at the Gaborone Private Hospital, Dr Dawn Balang, states that she has had male breast cancer patients though they account for less than 1 percent of the total number of breast cancer patients.
“However due to low public awareness on the existence of male breast cancer, men tend to seek medical attention when their cancers are in more advanced stages,” said Balang.
Despite the obvious physical differences between men and women’s breasts, the three diagnoses and treatment for breast cancer are similar. This cancer varies from stages zero to four and the choice and intensity of the mode of treatment depends on the stage in which it was diagnosed in.
“Matched stage by stage of prognosis of breast cancers, it is equal to that of females due to the tendency of it being diagnosed at later stages,” said Balang. “Unfortunately, men tend to have poorer outcomes than women.”
Both men and women who have close relatives who have suffered from breast cancer have greater chances of contracting cancer and Balang reiterated that the younger the relative is, the greater the risk.
Another risk factor for women is the hormone replacement therapy, commonly used to decrease postmenopausal symptoms. It is said to also be responsible for increasing the chances of contracting breast cancer.
Balang pointed out that there have been studies which show that the longer a woman is exposed to oestrogen the higher the risk of them getting breast cancer.
“The early start of menstruation and late menopause are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer,” said Balang
She pointed out that the risk is small and that pregnancy and breast feeding reduces the chances of getting breast cancer.
Balang said that women who had not had a full term pregnancy (nulliparous) are at a greater risk of getting breast cancer.
Local Non Governmental organisation, Cancer Association of Botswana has a series of events lined up to further create awareness regarding breast cancer. A full time volunteer at CAB, Bontle Modige explained that there will also be the annual stiletto walk where both men and women are encouraged to partake in a sponsored walk wearing stilettos (high heels) to raise funds for breast cancer awareness. Alongside the CAB staff at these events is also survivors of breast cancer who share their experiences of how they overcame their hurdles with breast cancer.
Property investors, PrimeTime have also played a crucial corporate social responsibility role regarding breast cancer during this awareness month. In conjunction with journey of Hope, PrimeTime has erected a large pink ribbon at the heart of Gaborone in the CBD area and went on to provide promoting free breast cancer examinations by volunteer nurses from Journey of Hope. In a press statement from PrimeTime it is stated that, “The breast cancer ribbon, visible to drivers passing the new CBD, commands the attention of all those within the BD. It is hoped that it will serve as a reminder, during October, which is breast cancer awareness month, for all to get involved in breast cancer awareness efforts in some way. “
Since breast cancer is a non communicable disease people are urged to regularly perform self tests and go for regular mammograms especially in instances where there are relatives who have suffered from either breast or ovarian cancer. Though breast cancer awareness campaigns are robust and vibrant in Gaborone there is still room for improvement about further creating awareness in the rural areas, Dr Balang noted that “incidence of breast cancer is increasing globally especially in developing countries partly due to the lack of diagnostic modalities, but also changes in lifestyle and more widespread use of hormones for management of postmenopausal symptoms.”