Lynn Bugaari Muhangi
October is breast cancer awareness month, one in eight women is affected by breast cancer in their lifetime. This means that almost everyone knows someone who is/has been affected by this terrible disease. The number of affected women is growing every day, as is the increase in the number of people affected by other cancers.
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women and has led to millions of deaths across the globe. Men are also susceptible to getting breast cancer although to a less likely rate than women.
The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) is doing its part in ensuring that products on the Ugandan market are safe for you and your loved ones to consume. This is done through developing standards for medical equipment, cosmetic products and foods.
Various standards have been developed and popularized specifically to address levels of aflatoxins in cereals, cereal products and animal feeds.
UNBS has been a part of several initiatives to sensitise and train the public about the unsafe levels of aflatoxins found in foods and animal feeds that are directly linked to causing cancer in human beings.
UNBS has also taken the initiative to work with several partners to simplify and translate these standards so that every Ugandan is able to understand and interpret the dangers of unsafe aflatoxin levels and its linkage to causing cancer.
The good news is, there has been an increased rate of breast cancer survivors in the last decade and this is mainly linked to early detection of the disease. AAR Health Insurance has shared the following tips for prevention and early detection of breast cancer;
Avoid smoking: Smokers and non-smokers alike know how unhealthy smoking is. On top of lowering the quality of life and increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and at least 15 cancers including breast cancer-, it also causes smelly breath, bad teeth, and wrinkles. Now that is motivation to stay smoke- free or work to get smoke-free.
Breastfeed: Breastfeeding for a total of one year or more (combined for all children) lowers the risk of breast cancer. It also has great health benefits for the child.
Avoid birth control pills, particularly after age 35 or if you smoke: Birth control pills have both risks and benefits. The younger a woman is, the lower the risks are. While women are taking birth control pills, they have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. This risk goes away quickly, though, after stopping the pill. The risk of stroke and heart attack is also increased while on pills-particularly if a woman smokes. However, long-term use can also have important benefits, like lowering the risk of ovarian cancer, colon cancer and uterine cancer- not to mention unwanted pregnancy-so there is a lot in its favour. If you are very concerned about breast cancer, avoid birth control pills altogether and opt for other family planning methods to lower the risk.
Avoid post-menopausal hormones: Post-menopausal hormones should not be taken on long term to prevent chronic diseases, like osteoporosis and heart disease. Studies show they have a mixed effect on health, increasing the risk of some diseases and lowering the risk of others; and both oestrogen only hormones and oestrogen-plus-progestin hormones increase the risk of breast cancer. If women do take post-menopausal hormones, it should be for the shortest time possible. The best person to talk to about the risks and benefits of post-menopausal hormones is your doctor.
Keep weight in check: It is simple to tune out because it is said so often but maintaining a healthy weight is a vital goal for everyone. Being overweight can increase the risk of many different cancers, including breast cancer especially after menopause.
Be physically active: Exercise is as close to a silver bullet for good health as there is, and women who are physically active for at least 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer. Regular exercise is also one of the best ways to help keep your weight in check.
Eat fruits and vegetables- and avoid too much alcohol: A healthy diet can help lower the risk of breast cancer. Try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and keep alcohol at moderate levels or lower (a drink a day or under). While moderate drinking can be good for the heart in older adults, even low levels of intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. If you do not drink, don’t feel the need to start. If you drink moderately, there’s likely no reason to stop. However, if you drink more, you should cut down or quit.
Find out your family history: Women with a strong family history of cancer can take special steps to protect themselves, so it is important for women to know their family history. You may be at high risk of breast cancer if you have a mother or sister who developed breast or ovarian cancer (especially at an early age) or if you have multiple family members including males who developed prostate cancer. A doctor can help you understand your family history of the disease. Do not forget screening; despite some argument, studies show that breast cancer screening with mammography saves lives. It does not help prevent cancer, but it can help find cancer early when it is treatable. For women, regular mammograms can begin at age 40, but specific recommendations vary by age and risk.
If you are age 40-44: You can choose to begin yearly mammograms. It is important to talk to a doctor about the risk and benefits of mammograms at these ages.
If you are age 45-54: Mammograms are recommended every year.
If you are age 55 and above: mammograms are recommended every two years
In addition, UNBS advises consumers to make responsible decisions while shopping by looking out for the distinctive mark (Q mark) on locally manufactured products as well as being mindful of the ingredients in products.
Women should steer clear of second hand clothing such as bras, panties and other undergarments which may cause skin irritation and eventually cancer. It is also advisable to beware of cosmetics containing hydroquinone and mercury. The two chemicals have been linked to the development of increased exposure to UVA and UVB radiation which increases the skin’s sensitivity to direct sunlight. It can also result in the formation of hyperpigmentation, sun spots or burns and in more serious cases – cancer.
Please remember that early detection is the only way to survive this deadly disease and take time this month to go to your nearest health centre for screening as well as changing your lifestyle to eliminate unhealthy habits because prevention is always better than cure.
The writer is a Principal Human Resource Officer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards.