Filipino women are facing the highest risk of breast cancer in Southeast Asia. Women’s groups celebrating the International Women’s Day last week raised this alarm while showing that the Philippines is ranked as first in breast cancer incidence in Southeast Asia. “This continues to rise by as much as 5 percent annually,” lamented cancer victor Maria Victoria Bugasto.
BY ACE ALEGRE AND LYN V. RAMO
Posted by Bulatlat
BAGUIO CITY (Mar. 7) – Filipino women are facing the highest risk of breast cancer in Southeast Asia.
Women’s groups celebrating the International Women’s Day last week raised this alarm while showing that the Philippines is ranked as first in breast cancer incidence in Southeast Asia. “This continues to rise by as much as 5 percent annually,” lamented cancer victor Maria Victoria Bugasto.
The middle-aged woman who had been battling cancer for almost a decade now told reporters last week that breast cancer is now the leading cause of death among Filipino women and is the second most prevalent type of the deadly disease next to lung cancer for Filipino women.
In 2005, the Philippine Cancer Society revealed that 25 percent of the female population in the country had been suffering from breast cancer. Every Filipino woman faces a 10 percent risk of getting it, Tetchie Pantaleon, who heads the cancer victors’ support groups Cancer Chat in Baguio and Ventures Club, said.
Although there is no exact number on how many Filipinas are now suffering from cancer because of the stigma and fear of coming out, Pantaleon said there is a need to give importance to it vis-a-vis Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). “In AIDS, we have a choice, but cancer crosses all social classes, ages, and even gender itself,” Bugasto said.
Bugasto, who is now deeply involved in the Manila-based ICanServe (Information on Cancer and Other Services) said that in Baguio City, in one oncology clinic alone, there are 113 “breast cancer victors” – only two of whom are males. The youngest is a 16-year-old student with naeso-pharyngeal cancer and the oldest is a 72-year-old woman with breast cancer. “Breast cancer does not discriminate,” she said.
Why RP Women?
Neither Bugasto nor Pantaleon knows why breast cancer risk among Filipino women is the highest in the Southeast Asia region. They surmise it is due to lifestyle and food preferences. Bugasto who had been a smoker for so long said, “Filipinos don’t care about their lifestyle.” The food we eat also matters, she continued adding, “We drink a lot also.”
“If you look at our neighbors, they think green and they live green,” Pantaleon said.
The good thing happening now is that more and more Filipino women with cancer are coming out, although Pantaleon admitted that there is still some inconvenience for some who fear of finding out they have contracted the disease. “So they live in the closet,” she said.
“But what can we do with breast cancer besides treating it?” Bugasto said. “We can keep people from getting it through concerted endeavors in developing high impact information campaigns that focus on education, prevention, early detection, screening and treatment.” Cancer is not anymore a death sentence because it is now curable, she beamed.
Not a death sentence
As the groups advocated for public awareness they claimed that the big C is no longer the death sentence it used to be because of an increasing interest of support groups to extend assistance.
Bugasto cites her case. She is living with cancer of the spinal column after her uterus, ovaries and both breasts have been removed. Her support group, Minda’s Buddies and ICANSERVE advocate awareness for early detection of cancer.
Nothing beats the early bird, they echo the old saying. Early detection is the best cure, Pantaleon said. “Many fear the first information they would get from the check-up that they tend to evade the doctor,” she said.
Pantaleon said that there is now a growing support system among women’s groups and cancer survivors groups who share experiences and build fighting mechanisms among themselves to go on with the battle.
Bugasto admitted she is envious of other places where cancer support systems are intact and working. Some are even male-dominated, she said adding that men are so concerned about their wives’ health. She said she finds strength and much comfort despite living with cancer because of strong family support. Bugasto believes there is more to undertake because only Cebu has the most improved support system in the country. They now have a ‘halfway house’ there while other areas including Baguio is still in the information stage.
Pantaleon insists that even government must be alerted on cancer incidence in the country vis-a-vis the AIDS phenomenon. Aside from it being a silent killer, it can afflict anyone.
Some 6,360 breast cancer patients die each year in the country, making it the leading cause of death among Filipino women, data from the Philippine Cancer Society show. Northern Dispatch / Posted by(Bulatlat.com)