SOME 17 Filipinas die from breast cancer everyday. Worldwide, over 1.2 million people will be diagnosed with breast cancer, making it the most common cancer among women.

Breast cancer, a disease of the breast tissue, is characterized by a lump or thickening in the breast or armpit, changes in the size and shape of the breast, fluid leaking from the breast, and changes in the color of the breast, areola or nipple. Why there is a growing surge in breast cancer incidence, physicians now have a clue.

Since the growth of breast tissue depends on a woman’s hormones, the popularity of hormone-containing drugs has been cited by many researchers as a factor in the rise of breast cancer incidence. The hormones estrogen and progesterone contained in birth control pills, injectables, implants, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) given to menopausal women, have been found to increase breast cancer risks.

Last year, the World Health Organization had declared the pill to be “carcinogenic” (cancer-causing) under Group 1, the highest classification of carcinogenicity.

A study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery in 1999 found that women who had taken birth control pills for more than 10 years had a significantly higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who had used birth control pills for a shorter period. The study also found that women who took birth control pills had a 50 per cent increased risk than non-users.

Pill use at an early age also increases risk. The medical journal Lancet in 1994 reported that among young women, the risk of breast cancer doubled with the use of the pill for four or more years compared to short-term use.

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Japan’s low breast cancer rate and pill use is a case in point, according to John Wilks, director of the Drug Information Centre of Western Sydney. Japan is the last country to approve pills in 1999. The absence of the pill contributed significantly to why Japan had then only one-third that of the cancer mortality rate of other Westernized countries where the pill has been available for 30 years.

The breast cancer effects of pill use is thoroughly documented by Women’s Health Network cofounder Barbara Seaman in her book, The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, where she analyzed how breast cancer rates rose consistently with pill use. Seaman debunked every cited “need” for hormone intake in whatever form.

According to Dr. Domingo Ganzon of the Benavides Cancer Institute, HRT is prescribed for women experiencing menopause or because of certain surgical procedures.

“HRT can be used by women who have undergone hysterectomies (surgical removal of the uterus) or oophorectomies (surgical removal of one or both ovaries). Since their bodies no longer produce hormones, we have to give them hormones to make them feel better,” Ganzon said.

Numerous studies have proven that HRT greatly increases the risk of developing breast cancer. A study by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund of Oxford found that breast cancer risk increases due to early menarche (first appearance of menstruation), late menopause, and HRT because of the increased exposure of the breast to estrogen or progesterone. A recent US study published in the medical journal Archives of Internal Medicine in May 2006 found that women who took estrogen-only HRT for long periods were 40 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer.


“A woman who has a family history of breast cancer is especially not advised to take hormones because this might increase her risk of developing the disease,” Ganzon said.

Risk factors that increase chances of developing breast cancer can be classified as modifiable and non-modifiable or unchangeable risk factors.
The modifiable risk factors include oral contraceptives usage, excessive alcohol intake, and being overweight. While age, gender, history of breast cancer, and family history of breast cancer are non-modifiable risk factors.

Breast cancer can be prevented if women keep abreast of risks and change their lifestyles accordingly. More and more health care professionals advise that fertility, menopause, and childbirth are natural phases of womanhood that need not be “treated” with hormones. Celina Ann M. Tobias


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