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Breast Cancer in Africa

Breast cancer is a severe health concern for women in Africa. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Africa, but more than one-third of the 64 000 deaths from breast cancer each year in Sub-Saharan Africa could be averted. 1


What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast tissue grow abnormally and form a tumor. These tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Malignant tumors can spread to other parts of the body, making breast cancer a potentially life-threatening disease. 2



It is important for women in Africa to be aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Common symptoms include: 3,4,5

  1. A lump or thickening in the breast or underarm area
  2. Changes in the size or shape of the breast
  3. Nipple discharge – particularly clear discharge or bloody discharge
  4. Swelling or redness of the breast
  5. Changes in the skin of the breast, such as dimpling or puckering
  6. Pain in the breast or nipple area.
  7. A newly inverted nipple
  8. Shedding, scaling, forming a crust, or flaking of the pigmented area of skin around the nipple (areola) or breast skin.
  9. Reddening or indentation of the skin on your breast, similar to the skin of an orange.



Screening and testing are important for the early detection of breast cancer. Common screening tests include mammograms, clinical breast exams, and self-exams. Women should begin having regular mammograms at the age of 45. Women at high risk of breast cancer, such as those with a family history of the disease, may need to begin screening earlier. Women should talk to their doctor about their individual risk factors and when they should start screening. 6


Prevention of breast cancer 

There are several steps women can take to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. These include: 7

  1. Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight can increase the risk of many different cancers. This includes breast cancer, especially after menopause.
  2. Exercise regularly: Women who exercise for at least 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer.
  3. Maintain a Healthy diet: A healthy diet can help lower the risk of breast cancer. Try to eat more fruits and vegetables.
  4. Limit alcohol consumption: Limit alcohol intake. Even low levels of drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer
  5. Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of breast cancer.
  6. Don’t smoke: Apart from its other health risks, smoking causes at least 15 different cancers. This includes breast cancer.

It is important for women to be aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, to get regular screening and testing, and to take steps to reduce their risk of developing the disease.


Treatment 8

Breast cancer treatment varies and is dependent on the type and stage of the cancer. Most people with breast cancer undergo multiple types of treatment.

The following treatments are commonly used:

  • Surgery: A procedure where surgeons remove cancerous tissue.
  • Chemotherapy: The use of specialized drugs to shrink or kill cancer cells. These drugs can be taken in pill form or given through a vein, or both.
  • Hormonal therapy: Blocks hormones needed for cancer cells to grow.
  • Biological therapy: A type of treatment that stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells or alleviate side effects from other cancer treatments.
  • Radiation therapy: The use of high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to destroy cancer cells.


Many individuals who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in its early stages are able to effectively manage their condition through treatment. In reality, numerous people who have received a breast cancer diagnosis have gone on to live long and satisfying lives.