ONE OUT of eight Filipinas is at risk of developing breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the country.

Dispelling myths about the killer disease, the Benavides Cancer Institute (BCI) held a forum on breast cancer awareness last Oct. 16 at the Angelo King Auditorium.

“Breast cancer is not caused by bumping or bruising and is not contagious,” Dr. Alberto Paulino, a UST Hospital surgeon, said.

Dr. Gina Panuncialman, BCI director, said that risk factors for breast cancer include age, heredity, personal and family history, early menstruation, late menopause, late pregnancy, and childlessness, since in the latter there will be no trigger in a woman for the lactation of mammary glands.

If a person is diagnosed earlier with breast cancer, the mortality rate of the patient can be decreased.

“Early detection of the disease increases the normal five-year survival rate from 23 per cent when the cancer already spread to other parts of the body, to 97 per cent when the cancer is confined to a small area,” Panuncialman said.

Radiologist Dr. Melodia Geslani of the University of the Philippines also stressed the benefits of mammography for screening and early detection of the disease. Mammography is the process of taking x-rays of the breast using low-level radiation where the breast is compressed as much as possible to avoid overlapping of tissues.

Contrary to popular belief, women with breast implants can still undergo mammography. The implants are displaced to have a clear view of the breast tissue itself.

Dense area detected in a mammogram would indicate breast cancer. Breast tissue samples are taken using needle biopsy to confirm whether there is hyperplasia or malignancy of cell growth. In hyperplasia, there is an abnormal growth of cells, while malignancy is indicated by autonomous, uncontrolled growth of cells. Treatment of breast cancer differs from case to case and in different stages of cancer.

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Warning signs of breast cancer include lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm, change in size or shape of the breast, blood-stained or clear fluid discharge from the nipple, changes in appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple, and marble-like hardened area under the skin.

Monthly breast self-examination is encouraged for women 20 years old and above, while annual mammography is recommended for ages 40 and above since the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, especially for those with a family history of breast cancer.

Men can have breast cancer, too

Even though less than one per cent of breast cancer cases occur in men, signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer in men are similar to those in women. So prevention and breast self-examination must also be done by males.

As in women, treatment of breast cancer in men differs from case to case and in different stages of the disease.

Prevention for women with inherited gene mutations includes removal of both breasts. But for those without inherited risk, whether men or women, prevention is as simple as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, eating right, exercising, and avoiding excessive alcohol intake.

According to Paulino, life expectancy of cancer patients is the same whether they undergo partial surgical removal or total surgical removal of the breast, so breast conservation or partial removal is usually done.

“Women with breast cancer need not worry of losing their figures because breast reconstruction is available,” Paulino said.

Aside from surgery, other treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal intervention, and targeted therapy.

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In chemotherapy, drugs are used to stop the growth of cancer cells. This is given before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor and after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy, on the other hand, uses x-rays to kill cancer cells after either surgery or chemotherapy, while hormone therapy uses anti-estrogens to stop cancer cells from growing. Targeted therapy uses antibodies to target cancer cells.

Faith can help heal cancer, too. Cancer warrior and survivor Lorna Roque emphasized the importance of faith, spirituality, family support, and strong fighting spirit of cancer patients.

“My advice to cancer patients is: Do not keep the disease a secret especially to your family because they are the ones who will provide you the support you need,” she said.

Early detection, improved treatments, and faith are the tips to bossom to beat breast cancer. Kingbherly L. Li

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