The rise of breast cancer in the Philippines has been alarming. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the Philippines. It is estimated that 3 out of 100 Filipino women will get the disease before age 75. These scary statistics should serve as a wake-up call for us to acknowledge how serious this disease is, and that we should take active steps to prevent it. Here are simple steps to increasing our awareness about this dreaded disease, and how we can encourage others to be more aware as well.
Read up on the symptoms and prevention of breast cancer. Equip yourself with information to know what you can be up against. Breast cancer has different symptoms, and some do not have symptoms at all. Symptoms may include a usually painless lump or thickening in the breast., nipple discharge, a noticeable change in the size, contour or shape of the breast, nipple retraction or scaliness. Late signs of breast cancer may include pain, swelling of the breast, ulceration and orange peel-like spots on the skin of the breast.
Learn about your personal risk. Family history makes up for 7% of all breast cancers, becoming a two-fold risk for women with relatives who have had the disease. The National Cancer Institute offers a Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool designed to estimate a woman’s risk of developing invasive breast cancer.
Perform a breast self-exam at least once a month. Breast self-exams are important because they help you become familiar with your breasts feel and look. If you spot any changes, you can seek the help of your doctor as a next step. There are three ways you can perform a breast self-exam: in the shower, in front of a mirror, and while lying down.
When in the shower, use the pads of your fingers and move around your breast in a circular motion. Movement should be from outside to the center. Do this on both breasts every month. Make sure to feel for any thickening or lump. If you spot any changes to your breasts, seek the help of your doctor.
When in front of a mirror, assess how your breasts look. Raise your arms high over your head, and look for any unusual contours, swelling, dimpling of the skin or changes in your nipples.
When lying down, place a pillow under your right shoulder. Place your right arm behind your head. With your left hand, move your finger tips around your right breast in small circular movements, covering the entire breast and the armpit. Squeeze your nipple to check for lumps and discharge. Repeat the exam on your left breast.
Take a clinical breast exam. A breast self-exam should be performed by every woman at home once a month. A clinical breast exam is performed by a professional trained to recognize any abnormalities that the patient may have missed. This could be your gynecologist or family physician. Clinical exams are a very important part of early detection.
Schedule a mammogram. A mammogram is an x-ray to examine the breast tissue for any abnormalities or suspicious areas. Some breast lumps cannot be felt, and so a mammogram can show a breast lump if it can’t be felt. Lumps can appear as microcalcifications, or tiny groups of calcium. If abnormal cells are spotted, more tests may be recommended by the doctor. Mammograms are recommended for women 40 years and above, to be taken every 1 or 2 years. For women under 40 who have higher risk factors for breast cancer, they can ask their doctor if mammograms are advised and how soon they should get them.
Encourage friends and family to be more aware as well. Support each other with following through on your early detection plans. The sooner we start becoming actively conscious about breast cancer, the better we prevent ourselves against it.