It's October! Let's talk about breasts

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 11 2010 09:22 PM | Updated as of Oct 12 2010 06:54 PM

MANILA, Philippines - From posting bra colors  on Facebook in 2009 to the "I like it on..." meme this year, people have resorted to many different ways to get people talking about breast cancer.

Both campaigns were launched in connection with the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is celebrated every October.

Although criticized by some as "barely related to breast cancer awareness," it can't be denied that these have gotten the people's attention -- both males and females.

The next step now is to educate the people about the disease so it can be properly treated, if not prevented.

Breast cancer is the top cancer in women both in the developed and developing world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with over 500,000 deaths every year.

The Philippines is said to have the highest number of breast cancer patients in Asia, data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed.

Of every 10 Filipinas, almost 3 (or 28%) get the disease.

"There's a higher incidence of breast cancer nowadays, even overtaking lung cancer, which used to be number 1," said Dr. Mary Claire Vega-Soliman, breast section head of St. Luke's Medical Center's Department of Medical Oncology, in an interview with ABS-CBN's Salamat Dok.

Vega-Soliman said, however, that now's not the time to lose hope, since patients still have a 98% chance of survival if breast cancer is detected at its early stages.

"We give many different options to earlier detect breast cancer and treat it," she said.

Where's the lump?

According to Vega-Soliman, breast cancer usually starts in the lobules (the glands in the breasts that produce milk) or the ducts (a network of canals that transport milk through the nipples).

"The lumps in the breast may grow on the lobules or the ducts," she said in Filipino.

So why does a person get a lump? For different reasons, said Vega-Soliman -- from the most common reason such as genetics, to something as random as "because you just have it."

Citing statistics, she said 12 out of every 1,000 women can have breast cancer for no reason at all.

Aside from a lump in the breast, other common symptoms of breast cancer include swelling in the armpit (lymph nodes), nipple discharge or bleeding, inverted or retracted nipples, scaly or pitted skin on the breast, and unusual breast pain or discomfort.

Vega-Soliman stressed the need to do a self-examination regularly, particularly at the same stage of the menstrual cycle since normal hormone fluctuations can cause changes in the breasts.

This is usually done by moving your fingers up and down (or in a circular motion) over the breast to check for lumps, pain or other irregularities in the breasts.

Should any symptom of breast cancer be seen or felt, Vega-Soliman advised the public to consult a doctor immediately for diagnosis.

Treatment of breast cancer usually consists of surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy, among others.