October was formally designated ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month’ in 1985 as per the international cancer awareness calendar.

That is when major breast cancer charities and other activists carry out annual campaigns intended to increase awareness of the disease even as they raise funds for research into its cause, diagnosis, treatment/cure and prevention.

The campaign is also designed to educate people about the importance of early screening and testing for the malady, as well as extending support every which way to people who are already affected by breast cancer.

The cancer typically affects women over the age of 50, although younger women are not free from developing cancerous tumours in the breast.

Also, breast cancer in men is not entirely unknown. Researches have shown that about one per cent of all breast cancer cases across the globe are (mostly obese) males – and that, more often than not, breast cancer in males is ‘more aggressive’ than in women! So, the third week of October was designated as a ‘Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week’ beginning in 2009.

Statistics have shown that about one-in-eight women will develop breast cancer at some stage or another in their lifetime – and that, about half of all women diagnosed with breast cancer in Tanzania will die from the disease.

This is according to a study titled ‘Tanzania Breast Health Care Assessment-2017: An Assessment of Breast Cancer Early Detection, Diagnosis and Treatment in Tanzania.’

The study – which involved a baseline assessment of breast health care in Tanzania – was carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children.

Improving breast cancer care in Tanzania

The study was jointly conducted by Susan G. Komen – the largest and arguably the best-funded breast cancer organisation in the United States – in partnership with a multidisciplinary team of breast cancer experts from the University of Washington, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, WEMA (a Tanzanian women’s health organisation) and the Dar es Salaam-based Ocean Road Cancer Institute.

Among other key findings, the ‘Komen’ study established that there is indeed “general political will and commitment to improve breast cancer care in Tanzania. However, a number of challenges impede availability of, and access to, the requisite care…” This, the study concluded,“results in fragmented, unclear and inefficient clinical pathways for women with breast health concerns – thereby creating significant delays in early detection, diagnosis and treatment.

“As a result, approximately 80 per cent of the women diagnosed with breast cancer in Tanzania are diagnosed at advanced stages (III or IV), when treatment is less effective, and outcomes are poor…”

That is not good enough. Tanzanians most urgently need ways and means of taming this dangerous malady that not only attacks breasts, but also all the other parts of the human body, ranging from cells and tissues to the myriad body organs and systems.

If early diagnosis of a cancer can make a major difference between life and death, then let us start with intensification of cancer awareness campaigns right, left and centre.