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What every person needs to know about breast cancer

Ignorance and delay can be your deadly enemies in the fight against breast cancer. A woman's own vigilance is her best defence.

"You have breast cancer."

Giuliana Rancic, an American TV celebrity diagnosed last year with the disease, says those are words you never want to hear. Sadly, though, breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer affecting women; one woman in eight will develop the disease and hear those four devastating words. In the UAE, breast cancer is the third leading cause of death for women.

Yes, I know that you feel great. And I understand that you do not have a family history of the disease. And yet every woman - and anyone who cares about a woman - must learn the facts about this disease and act, right now, to take care of your health, or the health of your loved ones.

In Abu Dhabi, as elsewhere, many women develop breast cancer each year. Women here typically develop the disease around a decade earlier in life than women in the West, for reasons that are still not clear. In the past, however, in many cases women here did not see a doctor until the disease was in a late stage.

This must change. When breast cancer is discovered late, the treatment is lengthy and more difficult, and survival is less likely.

Women fail to seek early medical attention for two main reasons.

The first is ignorance: many women do not know that a lump in the breast could lead to fatal metastasis. But today the facts about breast cancer are available at every clinic, online at reputable websites such as www.cancer.org and elsewhere.

The second reason some women may procrastinate is denial. But ignoring the dreaded lump does not mean that it will go away.

With this disease there is no time to waste. While a woman goes about her daily life - working, spending time with her family, enjoying social activities - the tumour is growing, spreading. In one cubic centimetre of a tumour there are one billion cancer cells just waiting to spread.

Different faiths have different beliefs; many religions believe that all things are predetermined and patience is rewarded. Some women in the early stages of the disease may interpret this to mean that they should accept their fate and be patient. But patience does not imply ignoring changes in your breast skin or tissue. It does not mean, in early-diagnosed cases, refusing to endure difficult surgeries or treatments prescribed by doctors.

It is easy to ignore a tiny lump that does not give you any pain, and cannot be seen by anyone. It takes courage and effort to call your doctor to schedule an ultrasound or mammogram and start the worrying.

Complimentary medicine and holistic (including faith-based) treatments may be important to you, but they should in no way delay the treatment recommended by oncologists. To date, we do not have enough research to demonstrate the value of these treatments. More research is greatly needed, but until it is done women must make use of the most effective medical treatments available.

Many factors such as genetic inheritance increase breast cancer risk. There are also endless lists of healthy foods that may help to prevent, or reduce the spread of, breast cancer.

The problem is that many women who have no recognised risk factors still get the disease. Similarly many women who eat healthy food, exercise regularly and minimise stress will also still be diagnosed with breast cancer.  A healthy lifestyle will benefit your overall health, but may have little effect on your chance of getting the disease.

Until we can prove what causes this dreadful disease, the best way to survive it, then, is to find it early. Breast cancer is treatable. When it is found in the early stages, 98 per cent of women will survive it.

And 80 per cent of all cancerous lumps are found in self examinations by the women who have them.This means that all women, from the age of 20, need to start checking themselves with a self exam on a monthly basis.

Medical experts also say women aged 40 to 69 require a mammogram every two years. And any woman with a family history of breast cancer needs to discuss her own risk level with her health-care provider.

October is breast cancer awareness month. One woman in eight will get breast cancer. You can choose to find it early and beat this disease, or you can live in denial and ignore these facts. The choice is yours.

But we need more survivors. Please be sure you know how to protect yourself.


Reema Marzouq Al Ahbabi is an Emirati homemaker and MBA graduate

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