Breast Cancer in Africa

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a short piece on my experience with breast cancer (since renamed "One breast beats being dead").  Now I read that breast cancer is on the rise in South Africa especially amongst young black women (under 35).  However the worst thing is that the survival rates are very poor because this group of women do not seek medical help until it is too late.   As many as 60 – 80% of women at one clinic arrive when the cancer has reached an advanced stage and is terminal. 

Some stats quoted in the article.

Something I did not know is that worldwide there has been a 21% increase in BC over the past 15 years.

In SA more women die from BC than any other cancer including cervical cancer which used to be the number 1 killer.

The five year survival rate for black women is 64% as opposed to 80% for white women in SA – quite a huge difference.

The provision of mammograms in the public health sector is poor so black women are less likely to have access to screening or breast exams given by professionals.  Self-examination is not satisfactory on its own as a tumor may not be a lump but possibly a mass of tissue spread over quite a large area of the breast.  Unless you are trained professionally you may not pick that up – as I didn’t.

For me the two questions are why is there a rise in cases of BC amongst
black SA women? For this I have no answer but I think it is a very
important question;  and why are black women seeking help too late?
It is only when BC has reached the terminal stage that a woman becomes
aware that she is ill.   BC does not come with any symptoms or illness
(other than if you feel a lump) which is probably why so many black
women are not coming forward in time for appropriate treatment to be a
success.  So unless preventive measures are taken eg BC awareness
campaigns, self-examination training, access to mammograms then black
women will continue to die unnecessarily from BC.

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4 thoughts on “Breast Cancer in Africa”

  1. Earlier I missed the entry ‘One breast beats being dead’ posted on Aug 17.

    I am so moved by it that I am speechless. Thanks for sharing and I am praying that you win every obstacles with this positive frame of mind.

    One of my friend’s sister died leaving 3 little kids because out of fear she resisted a mastectomy and it was too late when she eventually agreed. There are social and cultural pressure in it too that makes a woman sceptical of the consequences.

    Like movements against Aids, there should be mass awareness programs for BC. And people need to know what you’ve been through and how you coped with it.

  2. Thank you Rezwan. Having a mastectomy is one of the hardest decisions a woman may have to make in her life. All societies put enormous pressures on women to have “perfect bodies” and the breast is one of the signifiers of womanhood. We all survive on hope and I can well understand a woman choosing not to have a mastectomy which is a mutilation of her body, in the belief that the cancer will not take her life or other forms of treatment will work. One of the problems is that women who have survived breast cancer and mastectomy are invisible because they use a prosthesis and have reconstruction the end result of which is their pain is hidden. Society does not want to talk about what happens to women, whether it be domestic violence, rape, cancer, HIV/AIDS, FGM or even childbirth. We are asked to be silent not just by men but women collude with being silent. We are supposed to go through life hiding all these things that happen to us.

  3. My aunt recently died of breast cancer. I was shocked. I honestly thought this was a Western disease. I thought African women are not supposed to be susceptible to this disease…furthermore, why is it on the rise in our continent?

  4. I am truely sorry about your Aunt. I wonder if the increase is to do with changes in lifestyle, diet, environment are contributing to the increase? I believe that diet and personal lifestyle eg stress, insufficient sleep and exercise and one’s immediate envioronment and pollution levels are contributing factors. All these have changed in the past 20 years in Africa and this may be an explanation.

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