October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Did you know that in 2016, the Philippines had the highest incidence rate of breast cancer among 197 countries? (Source: Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society)

Despite this alarming fact, many people remain unaware of breast cancer and the nature of it. It was for this reason that October was established as Breast Cancer Awareness Month — to shed light on Breast Cancer and the preventive measures needed to fight it.

But what is breast cancer? The US National Library of Medicine defines it as is a disease in which certain cells in the breast become abnormal and multiply uncontrollably to form a tumor. Although breast cancer is more common in women, this form of cancer can also develop in men. The World Health Organization is seeing an increasing incidence of breast cancer in developing countries, thus the urgent need to promote awareness and early detection for breast cancer control.

Read further to learn more about the disease and how it can be prevented.

  1. Breast cancer is recorded as the most common cancer for women in the Philippines

Breast cancer is now the No. 1 cause of death among women in the country. The Philippines has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Asia with one in every 13 Filipino women at risk of getting it in her lifetime, according to the Asian Hospital and Medical Center.

The Philippine Cancer Organization recorded an approximate of 20, 267 cases of breast cancer in 2015, with this number expected to rise within the next years if not properly addressed.

  1. Only about 5% of breast cancers are inherited.

About 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer will be the first to be victims in their families. The US National Library of Medicine has noted that cases of hereditary breast cancer tend to develop earlier in life than non-inherited cases, and new tumors are more likely to develop in both breasts. As such, proper knowledge of one’s medical history and previous cases of breast cancer in the family is of utmost importance.

  1. Developing breast cancer has been linked with environmental factors

While the primary cause of breast cancer has yet to be identified, medical experts have attributed this with several environmental factors; one of which is the decision of many Filipino women not to have children or to delay marriage and having kids until they are in their 30s. Dr. Christina Galvez of the Philippine Breast Cancer Society (PBCS) also identified other risk factors including intake of oral contraceptive pills, high fat diet, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and alcohol consumption.  She noted that high levels of estrogen in a woman’s body raises the risk of breast cancer, and advised that pregnancy and breastfeeding offers some protection against breast cancer.

  1. Screening tests can help find breast cancer in its early stages, before any symptoms appear.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has found that more than a million develop the disease without knowing it. In its early stages, breast cancer usually does not cause pain and may exhibit no noticeable symptoms. As it progresses however, the possible signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • A breast lump or thickening
  • Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
  • Changes to the skin over the breast
  • A newly inverted nipple
  • Peeling or scaling of skin surrounding the breast
  • Redness of the skin over your breast

If one of these symptoms appear, it is recommended to visit the doctor and undergo proper screening.

  1. For women aged 20 and above, breast self-examinations should be conducted monthly

Dr. Melanie Cruz of the PBCS said regular breast examination is the single best way to detect the disease at the earliest possible stage. She pointed out that women aged 20 and above should conduct the BSEs monthly right after their monthly period. This is done by using the pads of the fingers in a circular pattern moving from the center of the breast going out including the nipple-areola and armpit areas to detect the presence of lumps, dimples, fluids and changes in the nipple color or texture.

  1. Generally, breast cancer cannot be prevented, but certain measures can be done to minimize the contributing risk factors.

Oncologists recommend that in line with proper screening, a healthy lifestyle is also key to preventing breast cancer. Some of the measures which can minimize the risk factors of breast cancer include:

  • Eating a healthy diet consisting of food high in fiber and rich in vitamins A and C and consuming foods rich in folic acid such as citrus fruits, dark green leafy vegetables like beans and peas
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Having an active lifestyle and maintaining ideal body weight

Early detection, along with a healthy lifestyle and diet is indeed the best prevention.

The fight to protect Filipinas against breast cancer continues and the annual celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month provides a great avenue for spreading the word across.

One with this global celebration, SM Cares strongly advocates awareness, early detection, and early intervention to help fight breast cancer through the Pink Ribbon day. Organized in partnership with Philippine Breast Cancer Society (PBCS), this fun-filled event aims to encourage women to have their breasts examined for early detection and early intervention.