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By: Buchi Okoye
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The silent killer that can be kept at bay by self examinations.

This growth of abnormal cells in the breast mainly occurs in women but can also be found in men. Most often, breast cancer is uncommon in women under the age of 40 - it usually affects older women from 45 years upwards. The risk is especially high for those over 60. However, there have been cases of breast cancer occurring in younger women. If detected very early, breast cancer is curable. The problem is that most people detect it too late when little or nothing can be done.
By knowing and understanding what to look out for, self examination can save lives. Breast cancer may sometimes come without the common symptom i.e. a lump in the breast therefore a mammogram every six months is advisable. By the time most lumps are detected, the cancer may have spread. Lumps found in lymph nodes located in the armpits may also be indicative of breast cancer and need to be examined.
Other symptoms include a change in the size, feel, colour or shape of the breast – for instance, the breast could be reddening (around the areola) or the skin may feel like that of an orange and may be dimpled. Those affected may also notice, skin dimpling i.e. inversion of the nipple, peeling or flaking of the nipple skin and bloody discharge from one or both nipples.
There could also be severe itching, burning or pain in the breast. Pain is not really a very reliable determinant of breast cancer as it may be indicative of other breast health problems which should also be checked out. Though these are the common symptoms, they need not necessarily be and are not the only ones. There are cases where there are no symptoms at all! So being breast aware and regular checkups at the doctors is advisable.
Being female: Majority of breast cancer cases occur in women. Only a very negligible percentage of men have breast cancer.
  • Menstrual Cycle and Menopause: Women who started their cycle much earlier in life and start menopause after 55, run a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
  • History: Those with a history of breast cancer in the family are more at risk of developing the disease.
  • Alcohol: Women who drink alcohol [excessively] are at a risk of getting breast cancer. Alcohol intake should be reduced to no more than two glasses of alcoholic beverages a week.
  • Late or no child birth: Having children early in life reduces the risk of breast cancer. Women who have their first child after the age of 30 may be at risk, and also women who have never had children are at risk of developing the disease.
  • Breast Feeding: Women who do not breastfeed also stand a risk. Breast feeding helps reduce the threat of breast cancer, so the longer you breast feed, the lower the likelihood of getting breast cancer.
  • Race: Breast cancer occurs more frequently in White women than in Black, Hispanic or Asian women. However, it is more likely that a black woman will get breast cancer at a younger age and most likely die of the disease.
  • Exposure to Radiation:Women who received radiation therapy early in life [before thirty] to treat cancerous cells in the chest region are at risk. The higher the dose of the radiation therapy, the higher the risk; this is more so if it was done when developing breasts.
  • Oestrogen intake: Long term intake of oestrogen drugs increases the risk of breast cancer. Since the body produces oestrogen, additional intake makes it excessive in the body, thus increasing the risk..
Risk factors can be modified since they cannot all be avoided. For instance, although we cannot change genetics, eating habits can be adjusted. Consider these as preventive measures you can take for a healthy body.

Consumption of fats: Avoid foods like stock margarine, packaged baked goods, snack foods and the polyunsaturated fats abundant in corn, sunflower, and safflower oils. Polyunsaturated fats may increase the risk of breast cancer by increasing oestrogen levels, so lean more towards monounsaturated fats found in foods like olives and canola, salmon, sardines, and herring. 
Fiber: Beans, brown rice, whole-grain breads and cereals, and many fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber. Fiber binds up excess oestrogen and carries it away through your intestinal tract.

Vegetables: Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower boost cancer-fighting enzymes. Carrots and sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, which is believed to hinder the growth of a long list of cancers, including lung, throat, stomach, and prostate in men.

Go Natural: When possible, buy hormone-free organic meats, poultry, and dairy foods. Wash fresh produce thoroughly and when feasible, remove peels to get rid of pesticide residue.
Berries: Berries are high in antioxidants, which protect healthy cells from many cancers.
Garlic, Onions, Leeks, and Chives: Most people cannot cook without at least one of these alliums - which are very good for the body. They boost the body’s immunity to cancer and help destroy cancerous cells. Eating portions of alliums especially garlic has been proved to reduce the risk of stomach, colon, and prostate cancers.

Early breast cancer detection significantly increases treatment success rate, so it is vital for women to conduct self-exams, get regular mammograms and report anything unusual to the doctor for early detection and treatment. Personal / self examinations can be done in the comfort of your home either in your bedroom or the bathroom. Just stand with a hand over the head stretched towards the ear of the other side and in circular motions starting from the nipples feel round the breast for lumps, and or any other abnormalities in the breasts. It is possible that the lump is not cancerous but as they say, ‘prevention is better than cure’. No need to be shy touching one’s body, it is better to have a healthy touched and checked body than to have a cancerous untouched one. So please become more breast aware! 
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