According to WHO-2021 Breast cancer (BC) is the most common cancer globally, accounting for 12% of all new annual cancer cases worldwide? In Kenya, it is the second leading cause of death among cancers, with increasing incidences and mortality rates as years unfold. In 2020, GLOBOCAN highlighted that BC accounted for 7% of overall mortality, with 42,116 new cases and 27,092 deaths in Kenya.
Late detection and treatment of breast cancer (BC) remains the big obstacle to the fight against this overwhelming epidemic. Across sub-Saharan Africa, BC is mostly detected in the advanced stages, because most patients with symptoms delay to seek healthcare early enough. In an article published by Lancet global health in 2018, more than 40% cases of BC in Eastern Africa have delayed diagnosis by more than 12 months from symptomatic presentation to diagnosis. Preliminary data from the Kenya National Cancer Registry (KNCR) show that 7 out of 10 cancers are diagnosed at advanced stages (stage III and stage IV).
Breast cancer is killing thousands of Kenyans and millions in the world every year, not because it cannot be treated, but because it is detected too late. Early detection and treatment of breast cancer has shown tremendous results in reducing its morbidity and mortality. A survey published by Lancet showed a decrease of BC deaths by 36% between 1989 and 2012 in the US due to the combined improvement in early detection and adjuvant systemic therapy. With early detection and right treatment, there is a likelihood of beating the disease. However, what could be causing the delays? An article published in 2020 in the European Journal of Health highlighted a strong link of delays to patient psychology and behavior. The article notes that shorter delays attribute to patient fear of BC outcomes, practicing self-examination, higher education levels and support from family and friends.
The critical component of breast health awareness is “Knowing your normal”, WHO. Know the risk factors, signs and symptoms, and how to practice self-examination. The belief that breasts disfigure during diagnosis, and that BC is an incurable disease is a lie. Early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer allows for less invasive treatments and the majority of patients recover after treatment to live healthy and productive lives. Advanced cancer demands more extensive therapies that are more likely to metastasize to other organs at which point they no longer can be cured.