Merri Iddrisu1, Lydia Aziato, Florence Dedey

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer after cervical cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa. In African women, it is known that breast cancers are diagnosed at earlier ages than in high-income countries with Sub-Saharan Africa recording the highest incidence. Breast cancer in young women is mostly hormone-receptor-negative, aggressive with limited treatment options, and has a poorer prognosis than that of older women.

In Ghana, breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer, and one of the commonest causes of cancer deaths in females of all ages with an alarming incidence in young women aged 40 to 49 years. Der Muonir, Naaeder, Tettey and Gyasi reported that breast cancer affects a higher proportion of young women with 47–57% of cases seen in women less than 50 years. It was reported during the first Global Health Workshop on cancers held in Accra (Ghana) in the year 2015 that, cases of breast cancers continue to rise especially, among young women aged 25 to 30 years. In the year 2018, 36.3% new cases of breast cancers were estimated to occur in Ghana with 12.4% deaths.

The diagnosis of breast cancer comes as a surprise to every woman no matter the age or social status because women perceive their breasts as something that makes them whole or complete, and therefore feel demoralized and useless when they lose their breast. The breasts of women serve several purposes including nourishment for their offspring, an erotic organ in a relationship, and a symbol of being feminine. When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she becomes hopeless, tearful, ashamed, and discouraged because of society’s behaviour towards breast cancer patients. Depression is reported to characterize the diagnosis of breast cancer with a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and a lack of motivation to effectively cope with life. Young women living with breast cancer have more severe depression than older women. These women have physical, psychological, and social concerns that require special care from a multidisciplinary healthcare professional. Even though breast cancer comes with a myriad of challenges, studies indicate that when people are diagnosed with breast cancer, they gain personal strength out of their experiences, and become psychologically confident, emotionally mature, appreciate life, get closer to God, develop empathy for others and intimacy for family.

Treatment of breast cancer generally involves chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgical intervention. While surgery leaves a deformed breast and a scar tissue that women find demeaning, chemotherapy and radiotherapy comes with weight loss, vomiting, weakness, loss of hair, and skin discolorations that distract their daily activities. Hormonal therapy also brings about; hot flushes, muscle cramps, joint stiffness, joint pains, and loss of libido, which may be disturbing for a young woman to go through since that is regarded as something that would have been experienced in her old age. Physiologically, breast cancer treatment comes with sexual and fertility concerns, including; diminished desire for sexual intercourse, fear of sexual intimacy, menstrual irregularities, and destruction of ovaries resulting in infertility.

Breast cancer treatment, therefore, affects young women’s physical appearance, sexual and reproductive lives as well as employment. Even though breast cancer mostly affects older women, the literature indicates that some Ghanaian young women suffer breast cancer and there is a paucity of literature on the experiences of young women with breast cancer in Ghana that could help health workers understand and care for them better. This study, therefore, explored the physical and psychological experiences of young women with breast cancer in the Accra metropolis. The study was undertaken as part of the first author’s Master’s degree programme at the University of Ghana.

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