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October is Awareness Month. The #Pink Ribbon, which has become a global symbol for breast cancer awareness, has come to symbolise a sustained drive to raise awareness regarding a disease that’s often the cause of dread among most women. It is estimated that one in eight women worldwide run the risk of developing breast cancer at some point of time in their lives, making it the most common cancer among women. There is hardly a household without some near or dear one who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. And of course, the word ‘cancer’ continues to evoke fear of suffering and death. But is this fear justified?

The breast is a lumpy organ, and most lumps in breasts are not due to cancer. However, dangerous lumps in the breast which are most likely than not to be early cancer are often painful, irregular, and firm and hard to feel; like a button. Pain is often a late feature of cancer. The fact that breast cancers are usually painless lumps initially lead to patients often seeking medical attention later. This is sad, because although there are about 1.7 million new cases diagnosed every year, roughly 70% of these patients are considered cured of the disease, making it one of the biggest success stories in any disease, not just cancer. In fact, breast cancer is one of those rare chronic diseases where a patient can be cured of her illness and live a normal life if detected early. To put it in perspective, most of the common chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, chronic liver or kidney disease etc. need lifelong medications and are never cured. So it’s time to get rid of the fear of breast cancer.

The breast, thankfully, is an external organ which can be easily examined using the methods of  self examination or by a trained physician or paramedic. The cancer often gives us sufficient time to detect it before it can spread to other organs. Hence, breast cancer is easily detected by screening. Screening allows detection of cancer even when it’s hidden and not causing any symptoms. Higher rates of survival from and cure of breast cancer is due to screening. However, women continue to be reluctant to get themselves screened. One reason for this could be ignorance, and the Breast Cancer Awareness Month is meant to tackle this ignorance. A majority of women continue to be afraid of being diagnosed with breast cancer, maybe out of fear of death, or mutilating surgery, or toxic chemotherapy or radiation.

The good thing about breast cancer treatment is that today, most women can have excellent quality of breast cancer treatment right here in the Kingdom comparable to global standards, while enjoying a normal or near normal life. Surgeries are less and less mutilating, plastic surgical reconstructions allow women to retain a normal looking breast, chemotherapies cause very few side effects, sometimes are not even needed if detected at a very early stage, and extremely affordable by almost everyone. Radiation treatments are accurate, cause hardly any side effects, and conform to global standards. In short, treatment of breast cancer is easy, available, and not to be feared. Of course, patients need to be treated by an experienced team to get the best results possible.

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If you are a woman above 50 without any family history of breast cancer, get your screening done every year. If you have a family history of breast, ovarian, uterine or colonic cancer, start at 40. Take the pledge; get yourself screened. After all, there is nothing more precious in this world than the life of a woman!

Dr. Prasan Durga
(Medical Oncology Consultant)
Bahrain Specialist Hospital


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