Why Early Detection is the Best Form of Protection Against Breast Cancer

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Posted on 9 October 2014

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Jennifer Chapi, 44, is a mother of three from Sarawak and she was diagnosed with a Stage 3 breast cancer in 2010 (read her full story here).

Earlier she had discovered a hard lump and pain in her right breast. She also felt numbness in her hands and feet and she easily got tired.

There is no cancer history in her family, so when her mammogram results came back positive, she almost gave up, “as if the light in my life was being switched off”.

She immediately went under the knife to remove her right breast and after undergoing chemotherapy, Jennifer is now well on her way to a full recovery.

Most breast cancer stories however, did not have a happy ending as Jennifer’s. Recalling her ordeal, she now has only two words of advise to all women: early detection.

“All women should conduct regular breast self-examination (BSE) and to go for mammography screening once they have reach 40,” she said.

Mammography screening is an effective tool for early detection and although BSE does not accurately determine the presence of breast cancer, it is still a very useful starting point for women to be aware of their breasts.

“Prevention is definitely better than cure. After all, the government (through LPPKN) is offering free mammogram screening and what better time to do it than now,” she said.

Even husbands can play a part by encouraging their wives to quickly go for a check up if they noticed any abnormalities.

Jennifer Chapi

Jennifer outside the X-ray department at Sarawak General Hospital.

Jennifer’s advice came at the most opportune time as new findings put Malaysia’s mortality incidence ratio for breast cancer at an alarmingly high rate of 49 per cent. Australia, in comparison, stood only at 16 per cent.

This fact was highlighted by the Together Against Cancer (TAC) Group, an alliance of 19 non-government organisations working to advancing the rights of cancer patients for standard of care and equitable access to cancer treatment.

More alarming, according to TAC, is the fact that 50% of the deaths from breast cancer are actually avoidable; provided the cancer was detected earlier and that the patient had good access to optimal treatment.

Another study entitled “Survival Rate of Breast Cancer Patients in Malaysia” also confirms the need for early detection by Malaysian women.

Of the three major races in Malaysia, Indian women had a higher survival rate of 54% compared to Chinese women (49%) and the Malays (45%).

Malay women appear to have larger tumours and a later stage at presentation than other ethnic groups; 50% to 60% were in late stages (Stages 3 and 4).

According to the study, the delay in presentation of breast cancer was attributed to a strong belief in traditional medicine, the negative perception of the disease, poverty and poor education, coupled with fear and denial.

Clearly there is a need to enhance the strategies for early detection and intervention of breast cancer survivors. This comes in the wake of drastically lower sign ups as compared to previous years for the government’s subsidised mammogram scheme by LPPKN.

One of the oft-cited reasons for this decline is the uncomfortable and sometime painful feeling caused from the compressing of the breast by traditional mammogram machines.

In addition to the introduction of newer, more advance machines that quickly scans and releases one’s breast, women should also schedule their mammogram appointments after their menses. This will prove to be less painful.

If the long wait time and queue is to be the main reason for not signing up for a mammogram check up, another feasible option is to conduct a Clinical Breast Examination (CBE).

A highly qualified and experienced medical practitioner or a nurse will feel your breast for any suspicious lumps and ascertain if a more thorough mammogram screening at the nearest hospital is in order.

PRIDE Foundation has recently opened its own CBE Clinic to make it easier for women to get expert advice. For more info on the clinic or to book an appointment, log on to www.pride.org.my/clinic or call Ms Ting at 03-7960 0366.

Regardless of the reasons, early detection is quite clearly the best defence against breast cancer and all women should schedule in a monthly breast self-examination (BSE) into their calendar.

If a lump is detected, they should immediately go for a mammography screening at the nearest hospital, or at the very least, conduct a Clinical Breast Examination (CBE) by a qualified medical practitioner.

Indeed, you owe it to yourself and your family who depend on you to make this small step to protect yourself from the world’s leading cause of death for women.

By Kamarul Aznam Kamarozaman, Chief Executive Officer, PRIDE Foundation




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