While survival rates are improving, regular screening should remain every woman’s priority, writes Meera Murugesan
IT is the most common cancer among women and yet, many remain nonchalant about getting screened. There is always a reason to put off having a mammogram or doing a breast self-examination. Some women claim they are too busy with work and family while others wrongly believe they are too young to get the disease. Some assume they don’t need screening because they don’t have any risk factors and there are even those who say they prefer not to know.
But this attitude can result in deadly consequences for the average woman. Breast cancer screening should not be a message that hits home once a year during Pink October or when someone in your family gets the disease.
Being vigilant about breast cancer, at all times, is a commitment that every woman should make because the prevalence of the disease calls for women to take it seriously.
THE CANCER WAVE
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and just last year, two million new cases were diagnosed worldwide. Every 15 seconds, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer somewhere in the world and more than six women die of breast cancer every five minutes worldwide. These shocking figures only serve to underline the fact that many women today will be facing a battle with breast cancer at some point in their lives.
According to the Malaysian National Cancer Registry (MNCR) Report 2011, cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Malaysia and breast cancer is the most common form of malignancy affecting women.
The disease burden of breast cancer affects 31.1 per cent of all women living with cancer in this country. According to the MNCR report, the percentage of breast cancer cases diagnosed at stage I and II was 57 per cent. At this stage, the disease is usually operable and can be treated with curative intent.
However, about 25-45 per cent of patients experience relapse and those with metastatic or unresectable disease are generally incurable. “Everyone in a woman’s life plays an important role in fighting breast cancer. Overcoming cancer is one of life’s many challenges — not a death sentence.
“Breast cancer is curable and we need to send out a hopeful message that women can resume their lives, and even do more after treatment,” says Lance Duan, general manager of Roche Malaysia.
In October last year, the company kick-started the “We are Pink Fighters — Fight with HER. Survive with HER. Move forward with HER” initiative to promote breast health awareness and early detection of breast cancer by educating women on the importance of self-examination.
As part of the initiative, Roche Malaysia collaborated with Sunway Medical Centre and the Breast Cancer Welfare Association (BCWA) Malaysia to provide free breast screenings, and blood pressure and glucose testing.
Ranjit Kaur, president of BCWA, says a mother’s love can never be replaced, hence the need for women to be vigilant about their health, particularly breast health.
Regular screening enables every woman to detect any breast abnormality early and seek timely medical treatment. Getting diagnosed at an early stage, enables a woman to have a better chance of saving her life, her breast and reducing her suffering and cost.
“When we save a mother, we save her children too as a mother is the pillar of the family. She needs to live longer to nurture her children to become responsible citizens,” says Ranjit. Being vigilant about breast health should be every woman’s responsibility, she adds. BCWA on its part, continuously offers Breast Aware Campaigns and clinical breast examinations for women.
Dr Michelle Mah, director of business development and corporate communications for Sunway Medical Centre says women should start adopting preventive methods like breast examination and breast screenings.
“It is our aim to help more women continue their life journey healthily and cancer-free. Studies have also shown that survival from breast cancer has improved in the past three decades.”
In Malaysia, the largest population based study of 10,000 breast cancer patients diagnosed between Jan 2000 and Dec 2005 identified through the Health Informatics Centre, Ministry of Health Malaysia, the National Cancer Registry and the National Mortality Registry, found that the five-year overall survival rate was 49 per cent.