Breast cancer survivor leads awareness drive in Rwanda

Early screening and detection of breast cancer can save lives, says cancer survivor Kigubu-Decuir

James Tasamba   | 19.10.2021
Breast cancer survivor leads awareness drive in Rwanda

KIGALI, Rwanda

In the landlocked East African country of Rwanda, a breast cancer survivor is doing a yeoman’s service raising awareness against the killer disease and removing the stigma associated with it.

Founder of Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa (BCIEA) – a voluntary group – Phillipa Kigubu-Decuir makes people line up for early screening to detect not only breast cancer but cervical, prostate, and other cancers as well.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on the occasion of the Breast Cancer Awareness Month that is being observed in October, Kigubu-Decuir said many women do not have any clue about the disease, till it becomes deadly.

“They must be rescued, taught, and empowered to take charge of their health. They must become aware of the importance of early detection for it saves lives,” she said.

Health experts say breast cancer can be detected through a change in the size or shape of the breast, or taking into account various changes happening around this region of the body. They recommend self-examination for women ages 20 to 39 every month and a clinical breast examination after every three years.

Managing a wellness center in the capital Kigali to help patients enhance and sustain a healthy lifestyle, Kigube-Decuir educates youth who she believes can become envoys by advising their parents to go for check-ups.

At the center, survivors make a knitted prosthetic device for women, and those diagnosed with breast cancer meet monthly in support groups to talk and listen to each other’s stories, which play a major role in the recovery process.

“They must know that they have the power to reduce their risk of cancer and cancer is not a death sentence,” she said.

Removes myths and taboos

Her team also removes myths and taboos surrounding breast cancer.

In Rwanda community health workers are now involved in awareness campaigns, educating women about breast cancer self-examination and screening.

Francois Uwinkindi, the manager of the Non-Communicable Diseases Division at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said the campaign started in Kigali is intended to promote early detection. He said the program will be rolled out in other parts of the country as well.

According to World Health Organization, Rwanda reports more than 1,000 breast cancer cases annually.

Kigubu-Decuir said challenges remain because there are so many delays in between screening, diagnosis, and treatment due to a lack of awareness.

“By the time a woman seeks treatment because of pain, cancer has spread all over. There has to be an awareness so that we all fight this because evidence has proven that if breast cancer is detected early, it is treatable,” she said.

Describing ignorance and lack of awareness as killers of people, she said curing disease also needs infrastructure available in developed countries.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide and the second leading cause of death after cervical cancer in low-income countries, according to the WHO. Men can also suffer from breast cancer.

Louis Grignon Ngabonzima, an official at Rwanda Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance, said Kigubu-Decuir has been pivotal in raising awareness about breast cancer, advocating for treatment as well as fighting stigma around the killer disease.

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