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Gigantomastia: Nightmare of living with gigantic breasts


Nightmare of living with gigantic breasts

The affected breasts may have tissues weighing up to 20kg

Jane* started noticing her breasts were growing excessively, causing neck and back pain five years ago.

She could feel the weight of her breasts weighing heavily on her chest and bra, but it was not until late last year that she discovered she had a rare condition known as gigantomastia.

"I used to have breathing problems. I could only do a limited number of activities. I could not run, bend and dress well. The condition comes with many problems," Jane told HealthyNation.

Gigantomastia is a condition characterised by excessive breast growth that may occur during puberty or pregnancy and is caused by hormonal changes or genetics.

Dr Were Onyino, a plastic surgery resident at University of Nairobi, says the condition can be treated by reduction mammoplasty (breast reduction surgery).

The affected breasts may have tissues weighing up to 20kg, leading to chronic pain in the breast, back and neck, shoulder dislocation, poor body posture, breathing problems as well as psychological problems resulting from trauma, says Dr Onyino. Gigantomastia can also cause breaking down of the skin under the breasts.

Many women with the condition go untreated. Besides the prohibitive cost of the surgery that can go up to Sh600,000, there is little awareness on the condition as the prevalence is low.

Jane was lucky. She was one of the two women who benefited from a subsidised breast reduction procedure at Meru Level Five Hospital last week in a programme supported by Gigantomastia Foundation and the hospital.

"The foundation subsidised a lot of the costs and brought in the surgeons and nurses from Nairobi. I only paid Sh150,000 for the procedure. I now feel very comfortable and relieved," Jane told HealthyNation.

According to health experts, normal breast mass weight for Africans is about 800g and 600g for Caucasians.

STIGMA FEARS

Dr Onyino said while no study has been done to establish gigantomastia prevalence, one in 10 women could be suffering from the condition.

Ms Ruth Makena, the founder of Gigantomastia Foundation who recovered from the condition nine years ago, said she established the organisation to subsidise the cost of breast reduction and create awareness on the condition.

"For several years, I was being treated for neck and back pains until one day I suffered a shoulder dislocation. While on the operating table, the orthopaedic surgeon noticed that I had excessive breast growth and referred me for plastic surgery,” she said.

"I underwent a breast reduction surgery in 2011 and in 2015, I founded the organisation in partnership with plastic surgeons to sensitise the public.”

She said many women with gigantomastia assumed the growth was normal and failed to link back, shoulder and neck pains to the condition. "The red alert is when you start changing your bra sizes often. If you find your bra straps are digging into your shoulders, you should consult a doctor," she advised.

Ms Makena said the condition also exposed women to stigma. "We have supported the treatment of two girls who had dropped out of school due to gigantomastia. The condition exposes a woman to name-calling and attracts attention to your bust. This can have adverse psychological effects," she said.

Lack of a medical cover for breast reduction surgery, which is considered cosmetic, makes it inaccessible to many women. "We urge NHIF and private insurers to provide medical cover for gigantomastia treatment because it is a medical condition," said Ms Makena.