This week’s Healthy Living discusses breast cancer and has the story of a survivor whose family has a history of cancer. Interestingly there are many factors, other than genetic, that can cause this cancer.
Marleni Cuellar Reporting
Though there has been significant advancement in the detection and treatment of breast cancer, it is still considered one of the most common types of cancer. The exact number of cases in Belize is not known but according to Dr. Alba Mendez Sosa, President of the Belize Cancer Society, there were approximately eighteen diagnosed in 2006. This number, however, does not include cases in other districts, in private clinics or cases diagnosed abroad.
Dr. Alba Mendez Sosa, President BCS, Oncologist
“Generally at this point I can tell you, Marleni, that the rate of breast cancer is starting to increase. Increase in the sense of detection. If we talk in statistics more or less the breast cancer in early stage is captured in only fifteen to twenty percent. Most of them is captured in the advanced stage.”
Like most cancers, early detection is key in the treatment of breast cancer.
Dr. Alba Mendez Sosa
“Patients that have a stage one, generally, they can have survival of ninety percent. Patient that have stage two depending on if it’s A or B, generally have survival more or less seventy percent or five years. But patients that have stage three and four treated with the three modalities of treatment that is chemotherapy, surgery and radiation they can get a survival more or less twenty percent to five years.”
Diana Skeen-Hendy, Cancer Survivor
“I use to always say I don’t wanna know but when they said I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was happy with knowing they caught it so early.”
Diana Skeen Hendy is a Belizean living in New York who understands all too well the importance of early detection. Having lost her sister, Judith, to breast cancer, she subscribed to annual checkups which included breast cancer screening.
“Going for my annual check-up a year and a half ago, that’s when they found a lump and I was diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer.”
“When you went for your check-up did you have any suspicion that something was wrong?”
“No, not at all. Actually it didn’t show up on the mammogram, it did show up on the sonogram. I remember calling all my family members all that same day; in New York in California and in Belize. But it took me three weeks to tell my two kids.”
Having a history of cancer on the family was risk factor for Diana. But there are other factors that make some women likely to develop breast cancer.
Dr Alba Mendez Sosa
“Generally it is associated with early menarche or when we start with the menstruation so early or finish the menopause so late this period of time when we have exposed to the hormones, women that do not have children before they are thirty years, are considered risk factors, no give breastfeeding is a next risk factor. And generally the smoke is considered a risk factor for breast cancer and a diet rich in fat generally can increase the levels of estrogens and this can give a little more risk too.”
These risk factors are not definitive as most cases are multi-factorial and sporadic. This is why the breast self examination and mammograms are widely encouraged.
Dr Alba Mendez Sosa
“Breast self examination, this is one of the most easy things that we can do because that is recommended one week after the period. Try to check both breasts in the similar condition. Most of the times we have one breast is bigger than the next one. But if you notice that the breast suddenly starts to grow more than usual, we need to consult that immediately. Next thing that we need that they no have change in the colour like inflammatory process redness in the skin, retraction of the skin that leaves small holes or try to push the nipple to the next site and generally that is some conservation that may need consultation immediately. Normally, remind that the breast start in this bone, until this part it normally start in the clavicle area until the line of the brassier and the middle line and all of this are that’s call the axilla we need touch. We start mammogram like screening at forty years. In this situation we say screening because we do mammogram because no touch absolutely nothing. We try and catch the problem at the earliest stage to identify what will be the treatment. Have the next situation that patients have a lump. In this situation the mammogram is to establish diagnosis.”
This is the message reiterated by most survivors. Because for every cancer related death there are many who’ve survive the battle…and Diana was one of them.
“A month after I took lumpectomy, I did thirty-seven sessions of radiation and now I’m on tamoxifen for the next five years. A lot of people say I’m in denial. I’m not denial I know and I believe at I am cured.”
The fears associated with breast cancer are many but Diana had the support of her sisters who have in turn become advocates for cancer awareness.
“I remember when Judith was going through her time. The family was there for her and that made her so strong and I know that they will be behind me one hundred percent. They make you forget that you’re going through that time getting the treatments.”
There are countless ways to show your support. One of them is by participating in the Belize Cancer Society's annual cancer walk on June thirteenth. You can also contact Karen Skeen to find out how you can purchase the cancer awareness items just shown, at 602-4050.