“Some 70 percent of breast cancer cases occur among indigents, thus perhaps the high rates for late diagnosis and below 50 percent survival rate”
As I write this, I am watching the live coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London.
While the queen, whose family is known for its longevity, passed away most likely of old age close to 100, there are many others who succumb to death when much younger, taken by disease, sometimes with much pain and suffering.
Among the most insidious illnesses is cancer, and its variations are among the leading causes of death worldwide.
This brings me to my main topic today, which is not the late queen’s final sendoff but breast cancer.
Statistics show that among Filipino women with cancer, 30 percent of the cases are breast cancer; about one in four females and one male for every 105 may be diagnosed with breast cancer in the Philippines.
Breast cancer has ranked first among the cancers afflicting Filipino women since the 1980s.
One of the reasons for this is that some 70 percent of breast cancer cases occur among indigents, thus perhaps the high rates for late diagnosis and below 50 percent survival rate.
Though some 75 percent of cancer patients are above 50, the disease can occur at any age.
The World Health Organization estimates that cancer deaths globally will more than double by 2030, to about 17 million deaths per year.
What’s alarming for us is that, today, the Philippines has the highest prevalence of breast cancer in Asia and the 9th highest in the world.
Lack of knowledge and a low level of education has contributed to this outcome, along with low income (a 2021 Philippine Statistics Authority study showed that nearly one in five Filipinos live below the poverty line), high costs of diagnostic tests and hospital care, and lack of awareness about breast cancer.
That is why it is vital for us to educate ourselves about this disease as much as we can. Science tells us that not all cases are hereditary – this can strike anyone at any age.
Conferences are good opportunities to learn more, and there’s one happening in a few days – the 6th Southeast Asia Breast Cancer Symposium (SEABCS), to be held online from Sept. 23 to 25.
Her Royal Highness Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, the mother of a cancer survivor, will deliver the opening address at the event. She served as president of the Union for International Cancer Control, a global organization, from 2018 to 2020.
On the second day, the keynote speaker will be former Health Secretary Dr. Paulyn Ubial, who said: “All our efforts, new treatments, as well as support services to help breast cancer survivors and for the general public on how to prevent getting breast cancer, be involved in early detection and as a support mechanism to patients and their families [sic] must be shared, so we do not repeat mistakes and learn from already known and established strategies and not waste time starting from step one.”
The Philippines-based ICANSERVE Foundation, Inc. and US-based Global Focus on Cancer will host the event.
SEABCS will discuss a range of topics that appeal to various stakeholders, including patients, caregivers, doctors, advocates, and cancer warriors at any stage of their journey.
ICANSERVE says among the topics to be discussed at the conference are “using positive peer pressure in Vietnam; measuring and improving happiness among patients in Malaysia; a breast cancer control program under local governments in the Philippines; managing unwelcome effects of breast cancer treatment; courage in facing advanced breast cancer; how the food you eat can influence cancer; using social media for advocacy; advanced technologies and artificial intelligence in healthcare; stories of hope, and many others.”
To be launched on the last day of the event is ICANSERVE’s free downloadable e-manual for breast cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers, “from understanding their diagnosis to living beyond cancer.”
It includes relevant and helpful topics, from the medical (understanding treatment options, managing side effects) to the personal (how to tell your family and friends) and practical (how to finance cancer treatment).
Registration for the SEABCS is free. Register for the virtual conference at https://seabcsphilippines.ph/
While not every woman may live to be as old as the late queen was or enjoy a life like hers that was relatively illness-free, we can educate ourselves to care for ourselves and our loved ones better, especially in the face of rising cancer incidences in the Philippines and worldwide.
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Ortuoste is a cancer warrior and advocate for early screening and detection. She is a member of the Manila Critics Circle, which established the National Book Awards. Find her on FB and Twitter: @DrJenny)