Raising awareness about breast cancer
30 October 2009 -- October is Breast cancer awareness month and in this episode we look at how a disease once considered a close companion of affluent societies has moved to the developing world.
Transcript of the podcast
Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the WHO Podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. October is Breast cancer awareness month and in this episode we look at how a disease once considered a close companion of affluent societies has moved to the developing world.
According to the latest WHO statistics, cancer causes around 7.9 million deaths worldwide each year. Of these deaths, more than 72% are now occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Among women, breast cancer features as one of the most frequent types of cancer globally. Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization talks about the challenges faced by countries where resources are limited and access to care is further constrained by cultural and social factors.
Dr Margaret Chan: We know that the incidence of breast cancer is increasing in developing countries, but we do not fully understand the reasons why. We know that the early detection and management of a disease like breast cancer becomes even more difficult in areas characterized by a shortage of data, a shortage of doctors, a shortage of screening services, a shortage of treatment facilities and, above all, a shortage of awareness. We need to tackle cultural barriers to care, and tackle the stigma and social isolation that frequently compound the misery of women diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.
Veronica Riemer: 30 years ago WHO's Goodwill Ambassador Nancy Brinker lost her only sister to breast cancer. She promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to combat this disease. In 1982, she established Susan G. Komen for the Cure and launched a global breast cancer movement. She talks about what needs to be done.
Nancy Brinker: There are strategies in place to diagnose chronic disease, diabetes, heart disease, but with cancer, it is particularly important that it is diagnosed as early as possible and in many countries we have no health care systems with the bottom billion or two billion people with very low resources. We need to provide ways for them to have opportunities to be diagnosed, to have productive lives, to continue in the case of women to be mothers, to be able to carry their families and their communities into lifestyles, and normal life spans. And we need to approach cancer as a disease that can be conquered and managed and that won't happen until governments and NGOs and very powerful people take the leadership role in making it happen.
Veronica Riemer: Today the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation is working to turn millions of breast cancer patients into breast cancer survivors. Patricia Allen, President of the English Speaking Cancer Association is one of those survivors and believes that the more we talk about cancer the more chance we have to save lives.
Patricia Allen: I was actually one of the very lucky ones, my cancer was detected on a routine mammogram in 2002. Because the cancer was detected at such an early stage, I did not need chemotherapy or radio therapy. I had surgery and that was it. So by all means the quality of my life is much better because it was detected early. Right now I am absolutely 100% healthy. It has been seven years. I still have an MRI every year. As far as I am concerned, I am 100% cured.
Veronica Riemer: Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early. But on a day to day basis, women can help themselves. Patricia tells us how.
Patricia Allen: My message to women today is for all women aged 16 and up, be vigilant about breast awareness, to know their breasts, to know how they look, how they feel and to note any changes and get them checked out. Certainly when you get up into the 20s and 30s, these young women should be doing not only monthly self breast exams but also going once a year to their gynaecologist for a clinical breast exam.
Veronica Riemer: Dr Andreas Ullrich is a WHO Medical Officer in the department for cancer control. He talks about reducing cancer risks.
Dr Andreas Ullrich: My advice to women to reduce cancer risks is to have a healthy lifestyle to choose a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains and nuts; to keep weight down and to avoid weight gain; to exercise regularly in particular with some brisk physical activity every day; to keep alcohol drinking moderate and certainly please do not smoke.
Veronica Riemer: If you would like more information about WHO's work on cancer, please see the links published on the transcript page of this podcast.
That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics drop us a line. Our email address is Podcast@who.int.
For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.