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Breast Cancer 101: Don’t Get a Mammogram Without Reading This!

If you were delighted by free mammogram screening back in 2010 courtesy of Springfield Breast Care Center, in partnership with the Department of Health (DOH), sure you would give it some thoughts before getting a mammogram appointment this time around—especially with the latest British Medical Journal (BMJ) research findings.

In the latest research conducted by Anouk Pijpe et al., which was published on BMJ online, findings revealed that carriers of BRCA ½ mutations (those with risks of being a mutation carrier) are at higher risks of developing breast cancer upon exposure to diagnostic radiation prior to reaching the age of 30. This particular study revealed an unfortunate pattern of elevated risks for breast cancer development, alongside elevated number of radiographs in women before the ages of 20 and 30, when compared to non-exposure at all.

Mammography, among other diagnostic radiation techniques, is likely to increase risk levels of developing breast cancer in women. The Pijpe et al. research in 2012 reported that, “A history of mammography before age 30 was also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.” Chances are, you would be better off thinking it over before undergoing mammography and other ionizing radiation techniques.

Not all diagnostic procedures are created equal, though. There are non-ionizing diagnostic procedures safe for women’s health under the age of 40. In fact, the American College of Radiology (ACR) acknowledged the use of ultrasound technology for the diagnosis of breast cancer in women below 30. European cancer agencies, nonetheless, prescribed Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) for safe diagnosis.

Most, if not all, physicians employ cost-benefit analysis to better assess whether or not patients should undergo risky medical tests. Experts only give the go signal as soon as the benefits exceed the costs, according to the ACR. Otherwise, diagnosis might only defeat its ultimate purpose of providing the best health care intervention.

Going over the other side of the fence

Does the British study necessarily negate findings from the latest Australian research? Based on the latest findings of Dr. Carolyn Nickson et al., published in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (CEBP) Journal, breast cancer death toll is reduced by 49% upon proper mammography screening. After all, adoption of diagnostic mammography for women in their 40s won’t hurt.

Lead Australian researcher Dr. Nickson contended in said study that, “Early detection is the key to early treatment and the free BreastScreen program is the best health service available to detect breast cancers earlier in women aged 50-69 years.”

Perhaps it is also remarkable that the British study only claimed high risks of breast cancer for women with gene irregularities; and that genetic abnormalities, in particular, are commonly associated with Eastern European Jewish females, according to an Associated Press report. It’s a big sigh of relief for Asian women, such as Filipinas, who might need to undergo mammography screening.

While Asians and African females manifested lower breast cancer risks, Manileñas, unfortunately, are likely to defy the general trend. Manila Cancer Registry, in the study conducted by LB Gibson et al., revealed that urban lifestyle changes in Metro Manila might have heightened risk factors of developing breast cancers among Filipino women. However, it does not attribute westernization to prevalent health risks.

Breast cancer: what it is and what it should be…

Filipinas might be subject to lower risk factors associated with breast cancer worldwide, but the fact remains that breast cancer tops the mortality rate among other cancer diseases even before the 21st century. Philippine Cancer Facts and Estimates, in 1998, reported that 26 of every 100, 000 Filipino women are subject to the risks of developing breast cancer. Same data revealed that over 3,000 are likely to die among 9, 325 breast cancer patients.

But the 1998 data might have gotten even uglier if the contentions of Congressman Rufus Rodriguez were true. In his Bill Breast Cancer Detection Act of 2010, Cong. Rodriguez asserted that reported cases of breast cancer in the Philippines were the highest in Asia where age standardized incidence rate reached approximately 48 per 100, 000 Filipinas.

Breast Cancer Detection Act of 2010, in lieu of the alarming incidence rate, expressly mandated Local Government Units to conduct quarterly manual mammogram screening under the supervision of the DOH for early diagnosis and treatment of the disease. For effective implementation, it seeks to ask for public fund allocation as follows: Php100, 000 from provincial government, Php75, 000 from city government, and Php50, 000 from municipal government.

The national government has intensified breast cancer research, too. National Health Research Agenda for 2011-2016 has placed the disease among the top priorities for Diagnostics and Genomics/Molecular Technology research. Among other technologies specified may include biologics, omics technology, and adult stem cells. Breast cancer research, as a matter of fact, is among the top priorities under health technology development. This way, the nation may be able to control the growing incidence rate relative to the disease.

Not always a sad story…

Diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2002 was Tessie Tobiano, who survived the disease. She even refused to seek for medical treatment abroad, and preferred resorting to accessible therapeutic procedures in the Philippines. According to her, “I wanted to be treated here, where I could be with family and friends,” as quoted by The Philippine Star.

Breast cancer treatment is accessible in the country through public and private medical facilities. Popular medical remedies may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, not to mention the booming trend for alternative medicines such as stem cell therapy.

Breast cancer treatment, however, can be costly, reason why Filipino women are better off spending for regular breast assessment offered almost for free at Rural Health Units (RHU). RHU doctors, in case of a red flag, are likely to write down a referral for further medical tests which can be availed for less through PhilHealth’s Reproductive Health Package. Doing so, women can be spared from soaring medical expenses upon early breast cancer detection.

Based on successful stories, Filipina cancer survivors are not only likely to recover from the physical trauma brought about by breast cancer upon successful treatment but are also likely to redeem their spiritual lives along the process—which only goes to prove that healing indeed comes best in a twofold road.


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