In a bid to stem the high incidence of late-stage diagnosis of breast cancer across Africa and the Middle East (AfME), American multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporation, Pfizer, says it is joining forces with Breast Without Spot and Breast Cancer International to disseminate educational content designed to encourage and empower individuals, patients, and families to get checked for breast cancer, better understand the disease and have the right expectations and act against it.
According to WHO, breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women worldwide, with more than 2 million women impacted annually. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any signs or symptoms of the disease. However, there are sometimes changes in the breast that a woman may notice. While rare, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. For men, the lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 833.
To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Metastatic Breast Cancer Day which fell on the October 13, Pfizer along with medical professionals in Ghana and Nigeria held a virtual media roundtable meeting.
The meeting was also to drive greater awareness around breast cancer, empower and support breast cancer patients in Nigeria and Ghana. Two reputable medical professionals from Nigeria and Ghana addressed issues relating to local metastatic breast cancer incidence, how it is diagnosed, who is at risk, steps to take to fight breast cancer and set the right expectation, as well as latest treatment advances.
Participants stressed that although great progress had been made in the treatment and care of breast cancer, there still was a lot more work to be done. They agreed that underserved areas and hard-to-reach communities in places which too often experience critical gaps in their care needed more support and care.
Timely access, affordable treatment options and expansion of resources and programmess that address current disparities across age, race, gender, and location can remove barriers that stand in the way of the most vulnerable people with breast cancer.
Medical Director, Sub-Saharan Africa for Pfizer, Kodjo Soroh pledged the corporation’s commitment to improving patients’ lives and supporting them at each step of their breast cancer experience.
“Across the region, patients are diagnosed with late or advanced-stage cancer at a higher incidence rate than other regions globally. There is a distinct need for more awareness campaigns to regularly encourage patients to check themselves for breast cancer and better understand the disease. Moreover, over the past decade, improved diagnostics, and newer treatment options for late-stage breast cancer, including those with different gene abnormalities, offer new horizons and hope for these patients,” the Pfizer Medical Director said.
He added that “we feel a deep obligation to advocate for people with breast cancer at every stage of their disease. Through our partnerships and programmes, we continue to create access to better screening services, clinical trials, treatment options and extended support to mental health and financial resources more so during life’s unexpected events, such as COVID-19.”
Dr. Hannah Naa Gogwe Ayettey Anie, National Radiotherapy Oncology and Nuclear Medicine Centre, Ghana said “most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any signs or symptoms of the disease. However, there are changes in the breast that some women do not notice.
Therefore, it is hard to overestimate the importance of conducting self-examination and going for regular check-ups. While each case is unique, age, certain genetic mutations getting periods before age 12 or starting menopause after age 55, having dense breasts, and family history are all known risk factors. With better awareness, prevention, treatment, and access to diagnostics, early detection could save between 2.4 and 3.7 million lives each year globally.”
Professor of Radiology, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria Nsukka, Nigeria, Prof. Ifeoma Joy Okoye, added, “it is crucial for patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or even metastatic breast cancer to have the right information and expectations.
It is our duty to encourage them to have open conversations with their healthcare teams to understand how they can be supported but also how they can participate in their own care – taking an active role in their treatment can help them feel empowered in making the best decisions for themselves.”
According to the Globocan 2020 study, breast cancer is the commonest cancer in women in Nigeria and Ghana and accounting for 22.7% of new cancer cases in Nigeria and 18.7% of new ones in Ghana respectively in 2020. Moreover, it impacts over 247,000 people across Africa and the Middle East (AfME).
Early-stage breast cancer is when cancer cells have not spread beyond the breast or axillary lymph nodes. However, in AfME, 50-60% of breast cancer patients are in locally advanced or advanced stages at initial diagnosis. Metastatic breast cancer is the most advanced stage of breast cancer, and it occurs when cancer spreads to other parts of the body, such as the lung, brain, liver, and bones.