It is the breast and cervical cancer month and Nation Media Group in conjunction with UMC Victoria Hospital will have breast and cervical cancer screening from 9am to 5pm Monday to Saturday at the hospital premises for the rest of the month. I had the opportunity of being one of the first people to go through these tests. While this was a golden opportunity after having failed on many counts to get screened, my mind buzzed with lots of scenes wondering what my body would have to be put through. I was not certain about what to expect apart from the various mentions of how the cervical cancer test was intrusive.
But go, I did, and for a couple of minutes at the facility, Dennis Twambale, head of business development, took me through what the drive was looking at garnering. All this talk helped to put my mind at ease. Dr Vikas Jain, cancer specialist at UMC Victoria Hospital, did a good job as well, with answering my questions. I asked until I could ask no more, I guess I was trying to buy time. But we had to do the tests and off to the examination bed I went.
To calm me down, he told me that as a matter of policy, there is always a female person, either an attendant or medic, as he examines his patients. True to his word, a female medic came by, as he examined me. Did that ease any fears? Not one single bit, because for me, that was an extra pair of strange eyes. To ease myself though, I decided to focus my attention on other things and I managed to become less tense. However, calm only lasted for the breast examination because when the good doctor examined my stomach area, I wished I had first used the washrooms. Try as he did to tell to me to relax, the thought of wetting my pants would not let me. Thankfully, I relaxed enough for him to do the checks and we were done. A few more questions were asked and answered before I proceeded to the next stop – breast screening.
I had not known that that was part of the package, but I got a lot of information from the radiographer, Geraldine Lwantale. “Sometimes one may not have any lumps in their breasts but their lymph nodes might be swollen. Thus the need to start the scan from the armpits to rule that out, as swollen lymph nodes may be cause for alarm,” she explained. Not only was she nice to me, all my breast results came out negative.
The dreaded but important screening
After that, we went for the mother of all screenings – cervical cancer screening. I tried to watch TV as I waited for my turn, but I just wanted to get this test done with and was glad when I was given my hospital gown and ushered into the room where it would be done.
While there are three types of cervical cancer tests, I did the Papanicolaou (Pap) Smear test. It is intrusive because samples are taken from various angles around the cervix. As you might have known by now, a gynaecologist has to get to the cervix by passing through one’s private parts. Why did no one tell me about this intrusiveness? Oh, I was told, but no one advised me that given the fact that you are conscious of what is happening makes it almost surreal. The vaginal examination before delivery pales in comparison to this. Having given birth before, however, helped.
During the test, the gynaecologist asked when my last period was and thankfully it had just ended. It got me thinking that it would be imprudent for one to come for such a test when they were in their periods. He then calmed me down saying it would not hurt and would not take long. The gynaecologist was nice and funny, and so was the nurse, but that did not help matters. Having given birth before, I guess, helped, and before I knew it, we were done. The experience is compared to none, no wonder I failed to ask any questions on this leg of the journey. Indeed, it was not painful and within five minutes, we were done. I actually stayed on the bed thinking he was not yet done before he laughed and said that he was through. I am waiting for the results and my fingers are crossed.
That said, the discomfort, cannot be compared to a late diagnosis of cancer. While many Africans, or Ugandans, say, “What you do not know does not kill you”, it will eventually wipe you and your finances out.
Many of us complain about how our people are dying of diseases that can be cured or prevented yet very few of us bother to go for annual checkups. I learned that breast cancer is hormonal while cervical cancer is transmitted but despite all that, both can be dealt with if early diagnosis is done. “When breast cancer is detected early, there is a 95 per cent chance of survival,” Dr Vikas stated. The same applies for cervical cancer. So, do not make intrusiveness the “white elephant” in the room, because clearly, it is the least of your worries and there is no pain to it. Get screened, and if, God forbid, you are found to have the cancer, you stand higher chances of living a normal life when it is detected early.
More lessons learned
Breast cancer is closely linked to ovarian and uterine cancer. That informs the examination on my lower abdomen. To address the challenge of reducing economic burden and to get better cure rate in Uganda, Dr Vikas advocates for early detection for breast cancer which includes:
1) Self breast examination (SBE)
2) Screening program-
- History & clinical examination
- Imaging (Mammography or sonography)
- Pathology (FNAC /Biopsy)
Why do self-breast examination?
With a focus on self-examination, Dr Vikas says it helps one; to understand the normal feel and look of the breast regarding shape, size and texture; to detect any abnormal changes in earlier compared to previous normal looking breast; and to get early detection of breast disease including cancer without expenses. One should note that although it is clinically less beneficial, it is economically more effective than other techniques for early detection and helps you to approach your tumor specialist early enough.
When to do self-breast examination
Pre-menopausal women should have it done a week after one’s monthly menstrual cycle while post-menopausal women can do it any certain day of each month.
“There is no particular age limit determined to start self-breast examination in females because I have seen breast cancer diagnosed in someone of 15 years and another of 85 years. So I personally recommend starting self-breast examination as soon as one hits puberty and girls ought to understand the process of self-breast examination especially if they have a family history of cancers of breast, uterus or ovaries,” he advises.
After biopsy, cancer will spread
Dr Vikas says that this is not true. He adds that a biopsy is the most accurate way to diagnose that a lump found in one’s breast is cancerous.
Bras with wires beneath the breast area can cause cancer.
Dr Vikas refutes that saying that bras and breast cancer have no link.
My visit and tests was such a great learning experience and I urge all women out there to spare some time, throw their fears away and go out and have the tests done.