The statistics are dreadful but it is on record that breast cancer claims about 1,000 lives annually in the country.
Identified as a leading malignancy in Ghana and one of the common causes of hospital admissions among Ghanaian women, World Health Organisation also estimated that , there were 2, 200 new breast cancer cases in Ghana in 2012.
The worrying aspect is how the disease spread very fast and the heavy toll it is taking on the lives of young women in the productive age of below 50. There is therefore cause for concern.
There is undoubtedly an urgent need for national action to halt the rampaging nature of the disease. Though, diagnosis and deaths through the cancer are mounting, risk factors remain relatively unexplored.
Moreover, misconception and myths have not been helpful to the early reporting of the disease to the health facilities for treatment.
In spite of the increasing education and awareness campaign in recent years by the government and NGOs including Breast Care International (BCI), ignorance remains unacceptably high, the misconceptions persist and patients continue to report to the facilities late at times, at the terminal stages.
It is therefore refreshing that at long last Ghana has decided to constitute a local research team to work with their counterparts in the US National Cancer Institute, to undertake a study to identify causes of breast cancer among our women as well as socio-cultural reasons and beliefs that combine to frustrate efforts at early detection and treatment
The team, which comprises breast cancer experts and researchers from the nation’s foremost referral facilities - Korle-Bu and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospitals, and the Peace and Love Hospital in Kumasi, has formed what is known as the Ghana Breast Health Study (GBHS).
It aims at establishing the best way for preventing, detecting and treating the disease.
The first of its kind in Africa, the GBHS will undertake a type of investigation called a “Case-Control Study”. This focuses on women with suspected or diagnosed breast cancer (Cases) and women who do not have breast cancer (Controls).
The study plans to initially enroll approximately 2,000 Cases and 2,000 Controls from the ages of 18 to 74 years in some metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies in the Greater Accra, Ashanti, Eastern and Central Regions, which are nearer to the participating hospitals.
GBHS is an important step, because it underlines the significance of utilising local expertise and exploring traditional and cultural dimensions in the treatment and management of diseases that affect the people locally.
Having extensive knowledge of the physiological and biological make up of the Ghanaian women and the socio-cultural environment in which they live is a key to effective treatment and management of disease.
Ignorance of its symptoms, especially in the early stages, and the belief held by some people that the cancer is caused through witchcraft have been the major barriers to prompt diagnosis and treatment.
The local research initiative and subsequent nationwide scale-up of the integrated breast cancer treatment and management strategies, which have been developed and currently being implemented by the BCI, could be the surest way of expanding information and awareness of the disease to radically reduce the high fatality rate.
BCI, which has been spearheading breast care education, treatment and management, has shown that indigenous knowledge and the use of local resources in an integrated manner, is the path to travel.
Strategies being implemented by BCI include training of nurses from district hospitals and health facilities in the communities in oncology to equip them with basic skills and knowledge to examine and identify the breast cancer, counselling services and referral of suspected patients for treatment.
The trained nurses also serve as navigators, regularly visiting known patients in their communities to ensure that they take prescribed drugs and continue with the treatment regime.
The BCI has additionally trained and organised the cancer survivors into an association and the members have been serving as role models for newly diagnosed patients, offering counselling and support services to them as they go through treatment.
The survivors are also leading education and awareness creation campaign to demystify the disease and telling people that it is curable.
The expectation is that the GBHS will undertake a thorough study of the integrated treatment and management initiatives of the BCI and incorporate them into the nationwide approach to fight the disease.
Local initiatives and other indigenous approach to treatment and management of the disease is the way to go.
It is my hope that the establishment of the GBHS will complement local integrated treatment and management initiatives to get to the root of breast cancer and find clues to effectively tackle the disease and save lives from heading towards their graves too soon.
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