Breast cancer is recognized as the most prevalent form of cancer, both locally and globally.
In the Philippines, experts say that breast cancer is the leading type of cancer, necessitating greater awareness and preventive measures.
In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, the Department of Health (DOH) held a “Kapihan with the Media” session on Oct. 6 where experts discussed various aspects of breast cancer, including prevention, treatment, and awareness programs.
“Usually, the sad part sa atin, kadalasan nakikita yung pasyente na medyo advance na [yung cancer] because yung mga pasyente natin na nakikita, minsan nahihiyang magpacheck-up or natatakot dahil naiisip nila yung mga gastos so nakikita natin madalas ay advance na (The sad part for us is that we often see patients who are already in an advanced stage because the patients we encounter sometimes feel ashamed to undergo check-ups or are afraid because they think about the expenses, so we frequently encounter advanced cases),” Philippine Society of Oncologists Outreach Committee Chairman and Council Member Dr. Arthur Jason S. Go.
Citing data from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020, Go noted that there were 27,163 new cases of breast cancer among females of all ages in the country, accounting for 31.4 percent of all cases.
To address this critical issue, the DOH and the Philippine Society of Oncology are collaboratively working to encourage and educate women, healthcare professionals, and the public about the importance of breast cancer screening and early detection.
“Kapag tumaas ang edad ng kababaihan, lagpas 40 years old ay tumataas ang tyansa na magkaroon ng breast cancer (As women age, especially beyond 40 years old, the chances of developing breast cancer increase),” Go said.
He highlighted several risk factors, including gender (although men can also be affected), early onset of menstruation, late menopause, late childbirth, lack of breastfeeding, and a family history of breast cancer, particularly among first-degree relatives like mothers, sisters, or daughters.
Go noted risk factors such as a history of radiation therapy, inconsistent use of birth control pills, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, alcohol consumption, and not breastfeeding.
“Isa pang pwedeng maging risk na magkaroon ng breast cancer ay yung pagiging obese ng isang babae, kapag mataba kasi, dito nakatago yung mga estrogen na isang hormone na pagkain ng breast cancer para ito ay dumami, pati na rin ang lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption, and not breastfeeding (Another potential risk factor for developing breast cancer is being obese as excess fat can store estrogen, a hormone that can promote the growth of breast cancer. Additionally, factors such as lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption, and not breastfeeding can also contribute to the risk),” he said.
Go also listed additional, less clear risk factors, including tobacco use, dietary habits, vitamin intake, exposure to environmental chemicals, night work, using antiperspirants, wearing tight bras, and having breast implants.
He recommended women undergo breast mammography screening starting at age 40, emphasizing its vital role in early detection.
The health expert also underscored the importance of breast awareness. “Ibig sabihin yung mismong babae ay sinasalat ang kanyang sariling dede at pwedeng gawin ito kada buwan para ma-assess yung dibdib kung may abnormalities (It means that the woman herself examines her own breasts, and this can be done every month to assess the breast for any abnormalities).”
During the discussion, Go also provided instructions on how to perform a “self-breast examination” — both in front of a mirror and in the shower, and emphasized the importance of regular breast checks and seeking medical evaluation in the event of any noticeable changes.
The warning signs of breast cancer, Go said, include the discovery of lumps, knots, or thickening in the breast or underarm area; swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening of the breast; changes in size or shape; and skin dimpling or puckering.
Go noted other potential indicators including itchiness, a scaly sore or rash on the nipple, nipple changes, and the onset of new, persistent pain in a specific area.
However, Go was quick to add that these symptoms do not necessarily mean an individual already suffers from breast cancer.
“Hindi porke’t may mga ganito tayong senyales, ay cancer na agad, hindi po. Ito ay mayroong maraming posibleng dahilan so importante na sumangguni sa mga eksperto, mga breast surgeon, oncologist para mas maliwanagan tayo, wag kayong matakot (Just because we have these signs, it doesn’t mean it’s cancer right away, no. There are many possible reasons for this, so it’s important to consult experts, breast surgeons, oncologists, so that we can be better informed, don’t be afraid),” Go said.
Reducing breast cancer mortality
Go mentioned a study that revealed mammography reduces breast cancer mortality by 30 percent and also introduced the use of ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as complementary tools for breast screening.
In terms of age recommendations for mammography, the health expert suggested that women aged 55 and older should undergo this screening every two years.
“For women aged 45 to 54, an annual mammogram is recommended, while those aged 40 to 44 should determine the frequency based on their preferences and consultations with their healthcare providers,” Go said.
He also emphasized the significance of continuing mammography as long as a woman remains in good health and is expected to live for more than 10 years.
Raising breast cancer awareness
Philippine Cancer Society president and National Integrated Cancer Control Council member Dr. Corazon A. Ngelangel pointed out that Breast Cancer Awareness Month is celebrated globally every October, and not just in the Philippines.
She highlighted the establishment of the National Integrated Cancer Control Program under the Cancer Division of the DOH Disease and Prevention Control Program.
“They will create programs for cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment, and care for all Filipinos with breast cancer,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Ngelangel also noted the existence of a network of DOH cancer centers spanning from Luzon to Mindanao and outlined plans for upgrading the surgical, medical, pediatric, and radiotherapy facilities within these centers. (Zekinah Elize Espina)