Going pink as cases march on

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The pink ribbon, worn for breast cancer awareness, takes on a new significance this year, as emerging data shows that the disease continues to rip through the country. Mmegi Staff Writer, BABOKI KAYAWE reports on the second leading cancer affecting local women

From 2003 to 2007, breast cancer was the third leading cancer-affecting women in Botswana and contributed to 15.4 percent of the total new cancer cases diagnosis.

However, the Health Ministry’s chief health officer, Veronica Leburu yesterday revealed scary data from the Botswana National Cancer Registry indicating that it is now the second most common cancer-affecting women.

She was officially kicking off national Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Selebi Phikwe. Data from the Cancer Association of Botswana shows that between 2003 and 2011, the registry recorded 14,668 cancer cases of which 1,320 were breast cancer cases.

Within the total number of all cancer cases, women accounted for 8,056 bearing the brunt of the ruthless disease.

The figures have grown even darker. Between 2008 and 2012, more than 625 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in Botswana, being approximately 16.3 percent of the total cancers diagnosed among women.

And, breast cancer is still being caught late among women.

“Sadly, 63 percent of the cases were diagnosed at late stages where very little could be done to save these women’s lives,” says Leburu.

“Up to 15 percent of the women diagnosed in that period have already lost their battles to breast cancer.”

Women in Botswana are being stalked by cancer. An HPV Information Centre survey released this March found that cervical cancer accounted for 24.6 percent of all cancers, followed by breast cancer at 15.3 percent.

Out of the 16,000 total deaths from various causes in Botswana in 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that 900 were cancer-related and among the 400 female deaths, breast cancer accounted for 13.2 percent of the lives lost, coming after cervical cancer.

The same report indicates that by 2014, Botswana had 250 cervical and 155 breast cancer cases, accounting for 77 percent of cases among women.

According to WHO, the leading cause of cancer among local women in 2014 was inactivity, followed closely by obesity and to a far lesser extent, tobacco smoking and alcohol abuse.

The use of solid fuels in households such as dung, charcoal, wood, or crop residues was also a leading cause of cancer, due to high levels of indoor air pollutions, especially in poorly ventilated spaces.

The battle is not lost however.

“The incidence of breast cancer, like other non-communicable diseases can be reduced by as much as 25 percent by our deliberate adoption of healthy lifestyle,” Leburu says.

She adds that early screening and proper case management could improve survival in up to 80 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer. 

The Itse Mabele a Gago (Know your Breasts) campaign launched in the copper and nickel town yesterday is among government’s efforts to increase awareness and education on the need for early screening and detection of breast cancer.

“As we strive to strengthen the health care system, the community needs to be empowered so that the country responds effectively to this disease, which is increasing at an alarming rate,” Leburu advices.

As part of the health ministry’s efforts to reduce the incidence of cancer and associated mortality, 25 health care workers have been trained to provide screening services in the country.

WHO representative, Dr Tebogo Madidimala believes accelerated public awareness is key to stemming the spread of breast cancer in Botswana.

This awareness includes effective education on dietary effects, as well as the impact of shorter breastfeeding.

“The increasing adoption of western lifestyles in low and middle income countries is an important determinant in the increase of breast cancer incidents in these countries,” he says.

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