Breast Cancer and how to prevent it

HOLLYWOOD actress Ingrid Bergman was reading a magazine that featured an article on breast cancer. As she was already 58 years old at that time, she tried to conduct a self-breast examination when she discovered a lump. This was in 1973 and she just got a very important role in Murder on The Orient Express. She finished doing the movie, and in 1974, she went to a clinic in London where she was diagnosed of having a breast cancer.

By the time Bergman was making Autumn Sonata in 1977, the illness got worse. Her left breast was removed causing lymphedema in her arms, thus impairing her range of movement.

On August 29, 1982, on her 67th birthday, the Swedish actress who won three Oscars (two for her leading roles and another for a supporting part) died in London.

Twenty-six years later, in the Philippines, Liezel Martinez was advised by her obstetrician-gynecologist to undergo a breast examination, since she was already 41 years old. Although she felt no symptoms, she underwent the test—and the doctor found a lump in her breast.

“It wasn’t that big, parang 2 centimeters lang,” she said in an interview. “It was so small kaya hindi ko siya nakakapa. But it turned out to be the aggressive type. Stage 3, located in my underarm. Nasa lymph nodes ko na ‘yung cancer.”

This was in 2008.  In 2011, the breast cancer recurred and had metastasized to her left lung; it was already in its Stage 4.  “I thought I was okay and then it happened,” she recalled.  “It was much more painful and harder to accept.”

On March 14, 2015, the daughter of former movie queen Amalia Fuentes and heartthrob Romeo Vasquez, died peacefully.

Every 19 seconds, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer somewhere around the globe, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO). In the Philippines, one out of every 13 women will get breast cancer, the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology reports.

In Asia, the Philippines has been identified as having among the highest incidence rate of breast cancer. The chances of getting breast cancer increase as one gets older, Dr. Rachel Rosario, the executive director of the Philippine Cancer Society said.

Data released by the International Association of Cancer Registries showed some 25,000 new cases of breast cancer are reported each year in the Philippines. When detected, more than half of these cases are already in advanced stages 3 and 4.

Recent studies have shown that one out of every four women who are diagnosed with breast cancer die within the first five years. No less than 40 percent die within 10 years, according to these studies.

Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. “Doctors know that breast cancer occurs when some breast cells begin to grow abnormally,” the Mayo Clinic explains. “These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells do and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass. Cells may spread [metastasize] through your breast to your lymph nodes or to other parts of your body.”

Medical science tells us that breast cancer most often begins with cells in the milk-producing ducts (invasive ductal carcinoma). Breast cancer may also start in the glandular tissue called lobules (invasive lobular carcinoma) or in other cells or tissue within the breast.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include: a breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue; change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast; changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling; a newly inverted nipple; peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple or breast skin; and redness or pitting of the skin over the breast, like the skin of an orange.

“If you find a lump or other change in your breast, make an appointment with your doctor for prompt evaluation,” the Mayo Clinic suggests.

“Better safe than sorry,” so goes a popular saying. This can be applied when it comes to breast cancer, too. “In order to improve breast cancer outcomes and survival, early detection is critical,” the WHO says.

There are two early detection strategies for breast cancer: early diagnosis and screening. “The goal [or early diagnosis] is to increase the proportion of breast cancers identified at an early stage, allowing for more effective treatment to be used and reducing the risks of death from breast cancer,” the WHO points out.

On the other hand, screening consists of testing women to identify cancers before any symptoms appear. “Various methods have been evaluated as breast cancer screening tools, including mammography, clinical breast exam and breast self-exam,” according to the United Nations health agency.

Breast cancer is staged according to the size of the tumor and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. “There are different ways of staging breast cancer,” the website of Medical News Today states. “One way is from stage 0 to 4, but these may be broken down into smaller stages.”

Below is the brief description of each stage:

Stage 0: Known as ductal carcinoma in situ, the cells are limited to within a duct and have not invaded surrounding tissues.

Stage 1: At the beginning of this stage, the tumor is up to 2 centimeters across and it has not affected any lymph nodes.

Stage 2: The tumor is 2 centimeters and it has started to spread to nearby nodes.

Stage 3: The tumor is up to 5 centimeters and it may have spread to some lymph nodes.

Stage 4: The cancer has spread to distant organs, especially the bones, liver, brain or lungs.

One popular adage goes this way: an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.  Curing breast cancer is still not possible although there are some methods already discovered. Which means, prevention is still the best way.

In a Cosmopolitan article, Dr. Maria Luisa Tiambeng, an oncologist at Cardinal Santos Medical Center, shares three important tips on how to lower a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer:

“Maintain an ideal body weight. Studies have shown that post-menopausal women who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of breast cancer.

“Be more active. Increased physical activity is associated with a decreased risk of developing breast cancer by helping women maintain a healthy body weight, lowering estrogen levels, and by improving a woman’s metabolism or immune factors.

“Limit alcohol intake. Current research suggests that having more than one or two alcoholic drinks per day raises the risk of breast cancer.”

Dr. Tiambeng also points out: “There is no reliable research that confirms that eating or avoiding specific food reduces the risk of breast cancer. However, eating more fruits and vegetables and less animal fat is linked with many health benefits.” 

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