There is no denying the facts. One in 19 Malaysian women risks getting breast cancer. More and more breast cancer patients are joining in the line for treatment but often at a delayed cost.

“Those with stage 4 breast cancer make up about 20% of this cohort,” said National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) president Dr Saunthari Somasundaram.

These figures drive home the message already ingrained in us: early detection saves lives. Yet, many choose to ignore the symptoms or put off regular health screenings.

Dr Sauthari hopes to garner greater support from healthcare professionals, non-government organisations (NGO) and communities as she believe initiatives at instilling breast cancer awareness must be a shared responsibility.

Early detection can prolong lives

She shared that the best methods to detect the cancer early are mammograms and a combination of self and clinical breast exams.

The Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) Audit for breast cancer from 2008 to 2012 reported that the most common age of breast cancer presentation is between 41 and 55, with the majority seeking medical help when the lump is between 2cm and 5cm.

“These patients mostly waited for months before seeking medical help and by then the lumps have gotten bigger,” said SGH general surgery department head, Nik Azim Nik Abdullah.

He also pointed out that some patients who came in with Stage 1 to 3 are still alive 20 years after surgery while those who came in with Stage 4 lived for, at most, a year.

One patient’s battle with denial and acceptance

Jennifer Chapi, 44, a teacher with three young kids, had a close brush with cancer. In 2008, she complained of numbness in her hands and feet and abnormal fatigue. She put off seeing the doctor but in 2010, when a lump showed up in her right breast, she opted for mammogram in Kuching. The result came back positive and she underwent a mastectomy immediately.

Her first thought, when diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, was “I will die.”

“Gradually, I stopped crying and feeling sorry for myself because my children need me. Back then, my youngest was only four.”

Six years on and Jennifer is almost in the clear. Her advice to women is to heed early warnings of the disease.

“We aren’t very good in talking about the hard stuff. We walk around it and avoid it but that isn’t helpful. We have to confront it and then talk about how we can help patients with advanced breast cancer live comfortably with cancer. We must be open but we also must talk about it with empathy,” said Dr Saunthari.

Focusing on awareness of advanced breast cancer in this year’s campaign, NCSM plans to create a website that will link patients and caregivers with health professionals, thus providing online resources and support. MIMS

Read more:
6 discoveries to fight breast cancer in 2016
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of cancer in mothers and infections in infants
The ’Angelina Jolie effect’ and the downside of mammography