EDITORIAL: You don’t have to die from breast cancer

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Every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Every 13 minutes, one woman will lose that fight. One in every eight women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime. But it is not just women! Men are also diagnosed with the disease every year. This disease, which claims the life of 24 percent of those diagnosed annually, affects everyone: families – spouses, children, relatives and friends; it affects our society, our economy.
Survival rates for breast cancer vary worldwide, but in general, rates have improved. In the 1960s, the survival rate was 63 percent, today it has risen to between 80 and 90 percent This is because breast cancer is diagnosed at an earlier and localised stage in nations where populations have access to medical care, and progressive improvement in treatment strategies.
Antigua and Barbuda is one of the few countries in the Caribbean region that offers access and advanced medical care. 
Through the Cancer Centre of the Eastern Carib-bean, the country is capable of treating individuals with cancers in the breast, prostate, cervix, rectum, lung, gastric and oesophagus as well as brain tumours. The centre was opened in June 2015 – kudos to the government.
The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) notes that with advanced care, the five-year global survival rate of early stage breast cancers is 80–90 percent. Globally, this falls to 24 percent for breast cancers diagnosed at a more advanced stage.
Although there has been significant improvement in cancer treatment in Antigua and Barbuda, our country still does not have a cancer register, thus we are unable to speak with any degree of specificity about the actual number of persons in Antigua and Barbuda who are diagnosed with breast cancer on an annual basis, or the number of people who are breast cancer survivors or those who would have, regrettably, passed on due to this illness.
So, we point to a 2010 report from the World Bank and World Health Organization (the latest report), which highlights that the death rate per 100,000 was 29.78 percent for breast cancer – ranking us poorly in comparison with other countries.
This made breast cancer the leading cause of cancer deaths in the twin island. In the wider Caribbean, breast cancer is, however, the second leading cause of death according to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) which said that in 2010, more men in the region died from prostate cancer than women with breast cancer.
Don’t’ sit there thinking that you have no control over whether you develop breast cancer…for the most part, you do.
You can help lower your risk by: (a) keeping a healthy diet – eating less fatty foods; (b) getting enough sleep; (c) exercising regularly – at least four hours a week; (d) limiting alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day; (e) avoiding exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer – carcinogens: (f) reducing your exposure to radiation during medical tests like x-rays, CT scans and PET scans; (g) breastfeed your babies if possible; and, (h) if you are taking or have been told to take hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives, ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you.
Breast cancer develops in the breast tissue, primarily in the milk ducts or glands. It usually begins with the formation of a small, confined lump (tumour), or as calcium deposits and then spreads through the channels within the breast to the lymph nodes or through the blood stream to other organs. It also develops in the underarm with a lump that may persist after your menstrual cycle, these lumps are usually painless.
You may notice changes in your nipples as well – nipple retraction, dimpling, itching or a burning sensation. Sometimes you may also notice an unusual
discharge from your nipples.
Dr Raymond Mansoor, in his blog for breast cancer awareness month this year, wrote on mansoormedical.org: “If you have strong family history of breast cancer or other cancers such as ovarian cancer, see your doctor early to discuss strategies for risk reduction. Do your breast self-examination. Do your mammogram yearly, starting from age 40. “
You don’t have to die because in recent years there have been many advances in life-saving treatment.
The first part of treatment usually involves surgery which would depend on the characteristics of the lesion and the patient. It may range from a lumpectomy, removal of the lymph nodes under the arm, to radical mastectomy. Depending on the situation, this may be preceded or followed by chemotherapy which is the use of medication to weaken/destroy cancer cells.
Radiation may also be employed and involves the use of high energy beams to kill cancer cells left behind. External beam radiation is available in Antigua at the Cancer Centre of the Eastern Caribbean via a linear accelerator.
Other forms of treatment involve hormone therapy which block the receptors on the cancer cells which help it to grow. Immunotherapy, targeted therapy and cryotherapy also exist to help fight breast cancer.
Remember, early detection in order to improve breast cancer outcome and survival remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control. That’s why we would like everyone to make breast cancer awareness a year-round effort and not just an October thing.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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