Breast cancer is a formidable disease feared by women around the world as it is wildly believed to be ‘incurable’.But in reality, if the patients get diagnosed and treated in the early stage, there is still a ‘chance’ to cure it permanently.
It is currently unclear as to what causes breast cancer, but it is evident that the supporting factor is estrogen hormone that accelerates the growth of breast tissue cells. When the body is unable to control such unusual growth those cells will eventually become ‘cancer cells’ which will rapidly spread to other vital organs.
Statistics shows that 100 in 100,000 women in Europe and USA have suffered from breast cancer. In Thailand, the number sits around 30 in 100,000 women, which means that from 30 million Thai women nationwide, there will be around 10,000 new patients of breast cancer every year. As the trend is growing exponentially, breast cancer has become a prominent public health problem in Thailand. It is currently no. 2 cause of death of Thai women next below lung cancer.
Prof. Dr. SupakornRojananin, Director of Breast Center at Wattanosoth Hospital, revealed that women over 40 years old are at risk of developing breast cancer. Those who are unmarried, have no children, take hormones and have their period early but last longer are also in the high risk groups. However, the most prominent risk factor is probably heredity. You are 10 times more likely to develop breast cancer if more than two of your close relatives (mother or sisters) also have it. It is therefore highly recommended to get a breast cancer examination if you are over 35 years old and have one or more of the above factors.
The key to successfully treating breast cancer is early diagnosis. Breast cancer self-examination should be done at home at least once a month to observe if there is any change. If a lump is found you should consult a doctor immediately for proper diagnosis before it gets any bigger. Patients will have a better chance of successful treatment if the lump found is not bigger than 1 cm. in diameter. This is why early diagnosis is crucial.
To detect the lump even earlier with more accuracy, one must use a digital mammography machine, which can detect abnormal cells when they are only millimeters wide. If a suspicious lump is detected, the doctor will then use ultrasound along with biopsy to determine if the lump carries cancer cells or not. Although there is no prevention for breast cancer at the moment, we can do early examinations even before the symptoms show up.
Dr. Supakorn further explained that patients with early stage breast cancer can choose between localized surgery or modified radical mastectomy (MRM) as treatment. If localized surgery is chosen, the follow-up chemo-therapy for the rest of the breast is required. After the surgery patients can expect almost 100% recovery. However, in case of advanced stage cancer, the only course of treatment is mastectomy followed by chemo- and hormone-therapy to reduce the chance of cancer reoccurrence.
Normally, surgeons would avoid mastectomy and use it only as the last resortfor patients with high risk from heredity. After the mastectomy, patients can have a breast reconstruction surgery that will help them return to their normal lifestyle with confidence.
At present, the number of breast cancer cases has been growing due to the expansion of big cities and urban life-style that put modern women at risk. Research results show that people living in big cities like Bangkok and Chiangmai have higher risk of breast cancer than people living in northeastern region.
Wattanosoth Hospital, a specialized cancer institute and an affiliate of Bangkok Hospital, has opened the “Sunday Clinic: High Risk Breast Cancer” to promote breast cancer examination among high-risk women (the heredity group) by providing additional tests of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes to assess the risk of cancer development. The center is fully equipped with state-of-the-art machines and is well-staffed with experienced medical professionals to ensure the highest efficiency of treatment.
"Gene tests will help determine the chance of breast cancer development, however they can’t tell exactly when the cancer will occur. If you are in the high-risk group you can lower the risk by controlling your diet, avoid fast foods and fatty foods, exercise regularly and try to maintain a positiveoutlook. Happy and healthy life is the best immune system.”
Most importantly, women should not overlook the importance of doinga breast examination on a regular basis. The earlier you detect a lump, the better chance of successful treatment you can have. Breast cancer may be a deadly threat, but it’s curable if you act fast.