AWMA TALKS PINK POWER! …breast health matters! get screened!

October 12, 2017
Source: Esther A. Armah l l Ghana
AWMA TALKS PINK POWER! …breast health matters! get screened!


Breast cancer. Two words. They strike fear into the hearts of millions of women all over the world. There are horror stories, lost lives, stolen futures, snatched dreams – all of these impacted by this cancer that afflicts women. There are also stories of early detection. Such stories reveal that what might have been life threatening, was actually, diagnosed and treated. There are stories treatment and remission. There are stories of treatment allowing women to get their lives back, even with changed bodies, their dreams and their futures, continue.

October is Breast Cancer awareness month. The Alliance for Women in Media Africa (AWMA) is calling on us to get screened, to protect our assets and to recognize the importance of breast health.

What is clear is that one major challenge and threat to life globally, is late detection. Late diagnosis of breast cancer increases likelihood of fatality. Breast cancer can be treated. Early detection is everything. It literally saves lives.  

In Ghana, we face a series of challenges regarding fully engaging in the kind of breast health care that would enable early detection.

Spirituality. Or perhaps more accurately religion. There are pastors and churches who will tell women that breast cancer is a matter of spirituality and discourage women from seeking medical treatment. Those beliefs hamper women from getting that all important potential early detection diagnosis that can enable potentially lifesaving treatment. Prayer is powerful. Spirituality is powerful. Pastors are powerful. But so is a mammogram. And while the suggestion is not to reject spirituality, it is to specifically encourage women to go for mammograms, get screened and actively engage in breast health.

Faith cannot substitute for early detection. Faith does not eliminate fear. It can be a powerful source of comfort. But it cannot replace necessary early screening.

Early detection can be a literal life saver. Late detection can be a literal killer.

Doctors’ advice is clear; if a woman is 50 years old and above, regular mammograms are encouraged.

Globally breast cancer disproportionately impacts Black women. According to the World Health Organization and multiple Cancer organizations, Black women die at disproportionate rates in comparison to their white counterparts. There are multiple reasons given for this. High on that list is late detection, lack of access to adequate health care facilities and fear of conventional medical treatment.

History validates such fears and challenges.

Black women’s bodies have been landscapes of medical testing without permission or knowledge. As have Black men. In nations like the US, historical revelations such as the Tuskegee Experiment, where African-American sharecroppers, under the sponsorship of the United States Public Health Service, were for 40 years subjected to various procedures and prevented from getting penicillin treatment. Black men were essentially allowed to die.

According to the American Cancer Society, African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the US for most cancers.

Books like the 2007 ‘Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present’ by Harriet Washington, a former ethics fellow at Harvard Medical School, reveal the extent to which Black people’s bodies have been used for medical experimentation.  The recent Ebola scare across West Africa – there were no cases in Ghana - and the subsequent  news story of an Ebola vaccine being tested on Ghanaians without full and proper knowledge and information resurrected that historical fear and issue. Fear is not invalid.   

Such history turns a trip to doctor into a different experience for Black folk than for others.

Indeed, according to the American Cancer Society, African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the US for most cancers. Late detection, inadequate access to health care and screenings and fear due to history contribute to such numbers. Ghana offers little statistical information when it comes to breast cancer. The World Health Organization reveals that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, with nearly 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012. WHO also explains that ‘comprehensive cancer control involves prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.’

Numbers and facts reveal the impact of the risk; and the level to which we are impacted. Numbers do not tell full stories. Behind each number is a woman, her life, her story, her experience and her journey.

Marian Toure is one Ghanaian woman who shared her story, her journey and her lesson. Here is what she shared:-

‘Early in 2016, I felt some constricting pain in my chest area which extended to my breast tissues.  For about a week, I felt a sharp pain in my breasts that I could only describe as a rope tired around my breasts so tightly that I could hardly breathe.’

Marian explained a breast cancer specialist physically examined her and advised her to get both a scan and a mammogram to better identify the source of her pain. A long wait for an appointment at Accra’s Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital prompted her to seek private treatment.

Marian continues her story.

‘The scan was pretty painless, but the mammogram ended up being a nightmare. This was because I have lumpy breasts with dense breast tissues. I found out later that was the reason for the pains I felt.

A mammogram requires that the breast is placed between two plates and the machine lowered to flatten the breast further to pick up any anomaly. The whole process lasted for about 10mins.

I found out after that I had a rare condition that meant that I would feel the pains every now and then. It was a relief to know I didn't have cancer and that it was the tissues in my breast that were dense and naturally lumpy. I also learnt a vital - and I believe the most important - thing about breast cancer: malignant cancers do not hurt, hence their notoriety for being silent killers. Regular breast exams can serve as a sure way for detection.’

Marian Toure’s story is a reminder that a screening, a mammogram can allow for early detection. The latter is transformative.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. All over Ghana, clinics and hospitals are offering free screenings.

On Thursday 12th October, AWMA is issuing a call to breast health action. Get Tested. Get a Free Screening. Below this article are a number of free screening services being offered by clinics and hospitals. Take note and get screened. On thursday, Rock a Pink T-shirt, or top or shirt. Snap a selfie. And post it to social media.

 #GetScreened. #protectYOURassets. #FreeService.

Breast health matters. Early Detection can change your life.