Breast Cancer Awareness Month is here and Jessica Bailey Ackerman takes the opportunity to discuss the importance of early detection in combating breast cancer.
Each year more than one million women are diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide, over half of whom will die from the disease. In the state of Qatar, breast cancer is the most frequent cancer diagnosed in women. According to Roche, a global healthcare company, the average five year survival rate for women with late stage or advanced breast cancer remains low, yet evidence shows that women of the region are often only diagnosed once they reach the advanced stages of breast cancer.
With so many women knowing at least one person, if not more, who has had breast cancer and with an abundance of information in the media, why are so many women not taking the necessary steps to protect themselves?
In a study conducted by Dr Tam Donnell of the University of Calgary and colleagues, titled Fighting Breast Cancer – Qatar Research Program from secondary to primary prevention, Oct 9-12 2013, results showed that amongst Qatari women, 24 per cent conduct Breast Self Examinations (BSE), 23 per cent have had a Clinical Breast Examination (CBE) and 23 per cent have had a mammogram. Due to this low rate of screening, women are at risk of being diagnosed at a later stage of cancer where treatment options are fewer. Regular breast examination to identify potential cancer symptoms in an otherwise asymptomatic individual is the key to ultimately beating cancer.
It is not enough to be aware; awareness needs to lead to practice. The difference between awareness and practice could be the difference between mortality and survival. In Qatar, according to research, there is at least a 10-15 percent deviation between awareness and actual practice; at least 28.9 percent of women were aware that they should be conducting BSEs, compared to the 13.9 percent of women who were putting this awareness into practice.
Sue Sullivan, a Doha expat from the UK, spoke of her own experience with breast cancer: ‘I was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago whilst I was still in the UK and was treated successfully there. When I moved to Doha three years ago I needed to do my homework on treatment for cancer, which, after some investigation, looked promising. ‘I have had very regular check-ups at Hamad Hospital and am pleased to report not only being clear every time, but that the treatment I have had has been brilliant, informative and attentive.’
There are varying reasons why women in the Middle East may not be taking the necessary steps to detect potential symptoms of breast cancer. Dr Tam Donnell states: ‘Less than 2 percent of women participants in our study have ever indicated that their husbands or male relatives objected to breast examination. However, similar to women worldwide, women in Qatar still prefer to be examined by female physicians.
‘A positive aspect of the Qatar healthcare system is that they provide gender appropriate healthcare providers in most hospitals and health centres. This is culturally and religiously compliant with their beliefs and values, thus having a positive impact on women’s engagement in breast cancer screening programs.’
Affecting men as well as women
Breast cancer can affect anyone, men included. Just because no one in your family has had breast cancer does not mean you are immediately risk-free and having a family history of breast cancer does not mean you will definitely develop breast cancer.
There are, however, certain factors that put you at a higher risk than others, such as being overweight or doing little or no exercise, using birth control pills for many years, drinking too much alcohol or even using combination hormone replacement therapy. There are so many potential risk factors and it would be impossible for us to avoid all of them; even those with little risk have developed breast cancer.
What is important for everyone to take heed of is the importance of early detection. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is not an automatic death sentence, and by catching it early, your chances of survival increase dramatically.
Penni Putman, Nursing Sister and Executive Head of Health Risk Management of South African company Private Health Administrators, explains what signs to look out for when conducting a Breast Self Examination: ‘Some women have lumpy breasts normally and it is important to feel for changes rather than just feeling for lumps. You need to check at least once a month at the same time of day. If you are still menstruating, it is better to do this around the time that you ovulate (mid-cycle).’
Battling breast cancer in Doha
Breast cancer can be beaten. Don’t become a statistic. Take control of your body, your health and your life. To get yourself checked, contact The Fetomaternal Clinic, 444756369/67, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.dohafmc.com.
Pink ribbon events in Doha this month
The Ritz-Carlton Doha, in partnership with the Qatar Cancer Society, Ladies of Harley and IAID (Academy for Dance, Music, Arts and Fitness) will dedicate the whole month of October to raising awareness and support for the cancer research programme. Here is the agenda:
Pink Ribbon Campaign There will be several talk-shows and workshops that will focus on healthy lifestyle, prevention, early detection and testimonials from survivors. The event will have performances from IAID artists and include the ‘Garden Of Hope’, where guests can purchase a painting and participate in donating to Qatar Cancer Society.
Fountain Courtyard, October 10th, 4-6pm.
Pink Ribbon Afternoon Tea
There is a ladies’ afternoon tea selection with a welcome drink, flower arrangement and pink sweet give away.
La Mer Restaurant, 4484 8663.
Pilates for a cause.
QR75 for non-members and QR25 for members, 9.30am, October 10.
Dance your way to helping those in need.
QR150, 7pm, October 14.
QR 75 for non-members and QR 25 for members, October 31, 11am.
Spa treatment Think Pink
This sensory journey combines 60 minutes’ worth of Ritz-Carlton full body massage and 60 minutes’ customised facial for ultimate relaxation and skin rejuvenation. QR800, for the month of October.
For more information, contact +974 4484 8000, or via email: email@example.com.
All proceeds will be donated by Qatar Cancer Society.