• The National Cancer Institute is studying possible approaches to breast cancer screening through blood exams.
  • Dr Weerawut Imsamran

A disease that kills

lifestyle July 11, 2017 01:00

By SPECIAL TO THE NATION

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Thai women are at high risk of breast cancer, the NCI warns



THAILAND’S National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently warned Thai women that they are at high risk of breast cancer due to genetic factors, diabetes and lack of exercise, and encouraged them to pay more attention to their health and adjust their behaviour to reduce cancer risks.

Dr Weerawut Imsamran, NCI Director, says the cancer situation in Thailand is very worrying, with the number of patients increasingly regularly over the past 20 years. Cancer remains the leading cause of death among Thais, with more than 120,000 new cases diagnosed every year and a high mortality rate of about 60,000. 

The five most common cancers in Thai women, the Institute reports, are breast cancer, liver cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer. The top five common cancers among Thai men, meanwhile, are liver cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer and leukaemia. The number of cancer patients is expected to grow by 3.5 per cent per year.

Progress in medical science means that some types of cancer can now be prevented through regular screening. Among these are cervical cancer, which can be detected through the Pap smear, and liver cancer caused by the hepatitis B virus, now preventable with vaccination, and both have shown a reduction in incidence. However, other cancers such as breast cancer and colon cancer are on the rise.

Breast cancer has now surpassed cervical cancer to become the most common cancer in Thai women. The NCI statistics in 2011 showed that 12,613 Thai women, or 34.5 persons a day on average, were diagnosed with breast cancer. This represented a morbidity rate of 28.5 persons in a population of 100,000. In 2013, breast cancer killed 3,455 people or 10.5 persons a day. Normally, every woman who reaches puberty has a risk of breast cancer but those over 40 years old are clearly more at risk. Morbidity rate is the highest between the age of 50-55 years, at 95 persons in a population of 100,000. Risk factors include ageing, high-fat diet, obesity, alcohol, lack of exercise and genetics.

Most of the people who died of breast cancer came to the doctor when the cancer had spread, with big cancerous lumps or wounds on the breast or having blood or fluid discharge from the nipple. If diagnosed early, breast cancer can be cured. 

To maximise treatment success, women aged 20 and older should regularly look for abnormal conditions and conduct breast self-exam every month, in addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding risks factors. Women aged 30 and older should conduct regular breast self-exam plus a breast check with medical professionals every three years, and every year together with a mammogram examination once they turn 40.

Technology is playing an ever more important part in driving innovation and development in the era of Thailand 4.0 and the NCI has continued to emphasise research on the disease, both in terms of related public policies and innovative treatments to effectively raise the quality of life of the patients and the general public. 

Currently, one of the feasible research projects is looking at possible approaches to breast cancer screening through blood exam. Such projects require considerable financial support, so the NCI has also been accepting funds from the private sector.

Among its supporters are ICC International and Thai Wacoal, which have jointly donated about Bt1 million annually for eight consecutive years through their Wacoal Pink Ribbon breast-cancer awareness campaign with the objective of keeping Thai women safe from breast cancer.