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Breast Cancer Is Nothing To Fear 

 

Breast Cancer. Like many other ladies in the Philippines, just by reading these two words you could feel worried or anxious, and that's absolutely normal. You might have seen a few posts online stating that breast cancer is the leading cancer afflicting Filipino women since the 1980s with a general survival rate below 50%1, or you might know someone around you that have suffered from it. While we understand your anxiety about breast cancer, remember, putting it onto the table and talking about it is never an act to spread fear, but to bring you courage and wisdom to prepare for the future uncertainty. What we want you to realize is, in many cases, death due to breast cancer can be avoided, and we will let you know how in this article. A study in 2017 shows that 88% of the excess death due to breast cancer were avoidable, and the key to that is to get diagnosed as early as possible and grant immediate access to optimal treatment2. In the next couple of minutes, we will show you the risk factors of Breast Cancer and how to prevent them. We will also let you know why it is important to keep your breast checked and in the unfortunate case of being diagnosed, what would be helpful to you. Are you ready to learn something incredible that could practically save your family and your own life?

What Are The Risk Factors of Breast Cancer?

Young mother giving her daughter piggyback ride

Until today, there are no exact answer to what triggers the development of breast cancer at a certain time in a certain person. But we do see the tendency of people with specific traits having a higher chance of getting breast cancer3. Basically, there are two types of risk factors that are associated with breast cancer: the uncontrollable and the controllable ones.

 

Risk factors that you cannot control:

  • Gender - Incidence is much higher in females than in males, but males aren't completely free from the risk!
  • Age - Breast cancer can occur at any age. Incidence increases particularly after the age of 40.
  • Menstruation - Higher risk if you start having period before age of 12, or have menopause after 55.
  • Exposure to radiation - Radiation therapy in the chest area.
  • Genetic factors - 5 to 10% of cases are hereditary. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, it is possible that you inherited a gene mutation (such as BRCA1 or BRCA2). You can have genetic testing done to find out more and let your doctor know. 

 

Risk factors that you can control (and you will learn how to do it below):

  • Eating habit
  • Smoking and drinking habit
  • Usage of hormone therapy
  • Amount of exercise
  • Body weight
  • Making choices as a mum

 

How to Prevent Breast Cancer?

Inevitably, being female and getting old are the risk factors of breast cancer that you cannot avoid, but there are indeed a longer list of things that are under your control. The importance here is that you understand the risk and what affects it. This will enable you to access yours and make better decisions about your own lifestyle right away. Here are some tips on how to prevent breast cancer:

 

  1. Keep a healthy diet - Some studies have suggested that a diet that is high in vegetables, fruit, and calcium-rich dairy products, but low in red and processed meats might help lower the risk of breast cancer4. An example could be the Mediterranean diet that focuses on mostly plant-based food like vegetables and whole grains, healthy fats like olive oil instead of butter, and fish instead of red meat5.
  2. Exercise and control your weight - You probably have seen this tip in every health-related article you read, but being overweight or obese does increase the risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause. So, be physically active and keep your weight in check. People who exercises for at least 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer.
  3. Don't smoke, limit drinking - Evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women. So does alcohol - even just a low level of intake increases risk of breast cancer. It is best not to drink alcohol but if you do, get no more than 1 alcoholic drink a day. By saying "drink", it means 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 unces of 80-proof distilled spirits4.
  4. Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy - Combination of hormone therapy for more than 3 to 5 years increases the risk of breast cancer5. Avoid or only take post-menopausal hormones for the shortest time possible. The best person to talk to about the risks and benefits of such therapy is your doctor. Check if there's other non-hormonal option, or seek help to monitor the length of time you're taking hormones. On a side note, evidence shows that hormonal contraception like birth control pills slightly increases the risk of breast cancer until you stop using it. Discuss with your doctor and take your own family history into consideration about the risks and benefits (which could mean reduction of risk of other cancers) of you taking certain contraceptive options.
  5. Give birth before 35 - If you have no children or you give birth to your first child after the age of 35, you are considered to have a higher risk of breast cancer6. Be aware of the timing if having children is in your plan!
  6. Breastfeed if possible - If you have children, consider breastfeeding. Your risk of getting breast cancer is reduced by 4% every 12 months of breastfeeding (could be an accumulated time from all children).

 

How Do I Know if I Am Breast Cancer-Free?

What would sound like a bad news is - Although there are preventive measures you can take to lower your risk of getting breast cancer, you cannot completely eliminate the risk. The good news here is, breast cancer is very treatable if diagnosed early. What you can do is to get your breast checked regularly, so if anything happens, you notice it in time and treat it. We know that cancer is a frightening disease to deal with for anyone, not to mention breast cancer, the most common form of cancer faced by women. It is understandable that some people tend to put off getting checked or prefer not to know because it feels like inviting in trouble when they otherwise feel perfectly fine. However, if we look at it another way and think about the results we could get: Test-negative gives you a peace of mind and assures you that you are perfectly fine. Test-positive? The earlier you notice, the higher the chance you can get rid of the cancer. Getting your breast checked is actually nothing to fear and will only help make your life easier. Here are 2 things you can do:

Get into the habit of performing self-check at home

A breast self-check is simple and takes only a few minutes a month. And best of all, it’s completely free. Every woman in the world should perform self-check regularly, there is no need to feel shy or embarrassed in the sense that you are empowering yourself to make healthy decisions and potentially save your own life. You know your body better than anyone else. Having a regular self-check helps you familiarize what your body normally looks like, allowing you to notice any abnormal changes that can happen. If you haven't started doing so, choose a day in a month (preferably soon after your menstrual period, when your breasts aren’t undergoing changes due to hormones) and check it consistently in front of a mirror, in a shower, and while lying down on a monthly basis. Instead of trying to "locate" the cancer, pay attention to the general look and feel of your breasts. Don't panic just because you think you feel a lump in your breast, most women have some lumps in their breasts all the time, and they are mostly benign (not cancer). But do look out for the 7 warning signs of breast cancer7 below and report to your doctor immediately in case of discovery. Here's a comprehensive guide on how to do a breast self-exam by BreastCancer.Org.

 

Signs of breast cancer:

  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that does not go away

Go to screening

As said, feeling a lump in your breast doesn't mean having breast cancer. Similarly, not discovering any signs of breast cancer doesn't necessarily imply you are safe from it. While self-check keeps you aware of the changes in your breast, it acts as a supplement of a professional screening, but not a replacement. Screening is the key to early detection, which ultimately saves life. The most common screening for breast cancer is mammogram (mam-uh-gram), a low-dose X-ray that helps find breast cancer at an early stage when treatment is most successful. It can detect breast cancer up to two years before the tumor can be felt by you or your doctor. All women are advised to go for screenings by medical professionals once every couple of years or more often, depending on your age. You may take a look at the guideline from the American Cancer Society on the screening recommendations for women at average breast cancer risk:

 

  • Women between 40 and 44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year.
  • Women 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older can get mammograms yearly or switch to every other year.

 

It’s normal to feel nervous about going but the procedure itself isn’t as traumatic or as painful as you might think. Clinics today are designed with the comfort of patients in mind, which means no more cold, sterile examination tables! But if this has nothing to do with your natural fear for going in a medical centre, it might help to have a friend go with you during the appointment. Chances are, she may also be due for a screening of her own, so why not make it just a little bit easier to take that first step towards that you (both!) stay cancer-free?

 

What if I Am Diagnosed With Breast Cancer?

We have accompanied millions of customers in their ups and downs over the years and we understand how disastrous you could feel the instant your doctor told you that "you've got cancer." You would probably be bombarded with all the information flooding in and the decisions you were asked to make. It's really hard to keep a cool head but the choices you made would be critical to the rest of your life. The first thing you should do is to understand your cancer: to be clear about what stage of breast cancer you are in as that helps you determine the choice of treatment. 

Staging of Breast Cancer8

 
Stage 0 1 2 3 4
Tumor Size Very small, inside the glands Less than 2CM 2-5CM 5CM and larger Any size
Lymph Nodes No cancer No cancer Affected by cancer Affected by cancer; Cancer has reached the muscles and skins Affected by cancer
Spreading Confined to the breast area, not outside Confined to the breast area, not outside Confined to the breast area, not outside Confined to the breast area, not outside Cancer has spread outside the breast area to any part of the body
5-Year Survival Rate 100% 100% 87% 61% 20%

 

Once you are clear about the situation you are in, talk to your doctor about the treatment options. Remember, immediate access to optimal treatment is the key to survive, and treatment for early breast cancer includes some combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy, aiming at removing the cancer from the breast and destroy any cancer that might still be in the body9. Make careful decision with a thorough understanding on the risks and possible outcomes.

 

The next thing you should do is to think about the resource and support you have.

 

Financial Support

Thousands of concerns probably popped up in your mind the moment you heard about the diagnosis, including "Where can I get the money for treatment?" and "What about my family that I need to take care of if I am no longer able to work?" Cancer treatment and maintenance could cost you a million or more, a not small amount or even too large compared to the income of the family. The least you would ever want to see is to delay the crucial treatment due to financial concerns. Having a secured financial backup eases a huge part of your worries and enable you to focus on getting the cure for yourself. Have a check on your own health coverage, including the SSS package, your company's group health policy, and your individual health insurance

You Don't Have to Face This Alone

It is important that you know what's your feeling and comfort level to receive more information, and recognize the support that you have around you. Bring a close friend or a family member along to the appointment as another set of ears. Joan Arnim who manages the patient advocacy program at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center said she's had people telling her that they didn't hear a thing their doctor was telling them after the first five minutes10. Let your friend and family help you with the notes and when you need a hug. If you feel overwhelmed by all the information and research, call out your internet-savvy buddies to do it for you instead. Staying positive is equally important as maintaining your health at this crucial moment of fighting off the disease. Read more on WebMD about what to do after a breast cancer diagnosis in terms of getting information and support.

 

Breast cancer has been a serious health issue in the Philippines and people are still not very used to openly talking about it. No matter what causes you to look up "breast cancer" online, we want you to know that you are incredibly courageous. By taking the first step to learn more about the potential risk on your health, you have brought yourself and your family a little more authority on your future despite all uncertainties. With the awareness on how to prevent and detect breast cancer early, you and your family now have the choice of staying healthy and potentially living longer, making your every day better. Talk to us now to understand more on how you can get your life protected.

 

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