Diagnosing breast cancer – challenges faced by women with disabilities
A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer somewhere in the world every 14 seconds. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths amongst women globally and surpassed lung cancer for the first time in 2020. According to a fact sheet by the WHO, breast cancer afflicted nearly 2.4 million women and caused nearly 680,000 deaths globally in 2020 alone. Today, nearly 8 million women get diagnosed with breast cancer every five years, making it the world's most prevalent cancer by numbers alone.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in one or both breasts. This cancer occurs when cells grow out of control and form lumps (abnormal growths) in the breast or surrounding tissue. Breast lumps can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). However, it is essential to note that some types of lumps in the breast can increase your risk of getting breast cancer. Breast cancer screening is essential for women to detect the disease early, reduce their risk of having the cancer spread to other parts of the body, and reduce mortality rates.
Are there multiple types of breast cancer?
Most breast cancers are carcinomas—tumours that start in the cells that line our organs. A carcinoma that forms in the breast is mainly of a type called adenocarcinoma, which starts in the milk ducts or lobules. Breast cancers that have not grown into the rest of the breast tissue are called carcinoma in situ. Cancers that move to other parts of the breast tissue are called invasive breast cancers. Many other types of cancers can occur in the breast, and you must get screened in time to ensure that you get the proper treatment.
What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?
The most common tell-tale sign of breast cancer is a painless lump or thickening in the breast. Women who find an abnormal lump in their breasts must consult a doctor as soon as possible to ensure they are treated successfully. Here are some common signs and symptoms women must watch out for:
A lump in the breast or thickening
Changes in the size, shape, or appearance of the breast
Redness, dimpling or pitting of the skin
Changes in the skin around the nipple or areola
Abnormal discharge from the nipple
Doctors worldwide recommend that women between 50 and 74 get a mammogram every two years. Those between 40-49 years of age must consult their doctor to check how often they need screening. Timely screening can help individuals reach survival probabilities of over 90% in many cases.
How does breast cancer spread?
Breast cancer spreads when cancer cells enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system and are carried to other body parts. Lymph vessels carry lymph fluid away from breasts. Breast cancer cells can enter these vessels and grow in lymph nodes or other body parts. Cancer that spreads to another part of the body is called metastatic cancer.
Breast cancer screening over the years
Any cancer's mortality rates depend on early screening and accurate diagnosis. Breast cancer mortality rates were relatively unchanged from the early 1930s to the 1970s, with some improvement in survival rates as countries began to start early detection programs and modern treatment regimens to eradicate invasive forms of the disease.
Saving thousands of lives through early screening
As with most cancers, breast cancer survival rates depend on when the cancer is found. Breast cancer is easiest to treat If it is found in the early stages compared to late-stage diagnosis when it becomes malignant and has spread to other body organs. A mammogram or an X-ray of the breast is the easiest and best way to detect breast cancer early so that it can be treated in time. Early screening and an accurate breast cancer diagnosis can help women lead healthier and longer lives.
Challenges in breast cancer diagnosis
An NHIS survey showcased that women with disabilities are up to 20% more likely to skip mammograms than those without disabilities. Women unable to sit upright with or without assistance or those with problems moving from a scooter to a chair or dressing/undressing without assistance are likelier to skip their mammograms than others. In fact, a study found that women with disabilities are less likely to be up to date with breast and cervical cancer screenings.
What are the consequences of a delayed breast cancer diagnosis?
Delayed diagnosis of breast cancer causes a reduction in survival rates among women. A study also showcased that distant metastatic and unknown-stage cancers were up to 16% more common in women with disabilities than those without them. This resulted in higher mortality risk in patients with disabilities.
How can Sanrai help?
Sanrai is committed to the welfare of those with disabilities and offers a range of products that can boost early screening and accurate diagnostics in women with disabilities. With the Drive DeVilbiss range of mobility solutions, patients can easily transfer from their scooter or car to the screening site and use the facilities without problems. With grab bars, walking canes, wheelchairs, scooters and many other products on offer, the Drive DeVilbiss range of products helps women with disabilities to ensure that they access diagnostic services in time, helping them lead a healthier, happier life.
Early screening and accurate diagnosis are the two most important ways to ensure that women with and without disabilities reduce the impact of breast cancer on their lives. If found early, these cancers can be treated more effectively, boosting survival rates in women worldwide. Contact your healthcare provider for more information about breast cancer and how you can get timely screening.