Of fan­tasies and myths

There are a lot of myths and mis­con­cep­tions about breast and cer­vi­cal can­cer. Here are some of them.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - HEALTH - By LIM WEY WEN starhealth@thes­tar.com.my

AS a so­ci­ety, we have some­what moved past the flawed be­lief that can­cer hap­pens to peo­ple who “have been bad” or “is be­ing pun­ished for the sin­ful thing he did”. We now know that can­cer can hap­pen to any­one.

How­ever, some of the com­mon myths of can­cer re­main, par­tic­u­larly on the types of food or life­style habits that could “cause can­cer” or “pre­vent can­cer”.

This week, we ex­plore the re­al­i­ties of some com­mon myths about breast can­cer and cer­vi­cal can­cer that are sourced from con­sul­tant clin­i­cal on­col­o­gist and ra­dio­ther­a­pist Dr Mani­van­nan A. B., con­sul­tant ob­ste­tri­cian and gy­nae­col­o­gist Dr Liew Fah Onn, the United States National Breast Can­cer Foun­da­tion, Inc, and the Univer­sity of Michi­gan Com­pre­hen­sive Can­cer Cen­ter, US.

Breast can­cer

Myth: Only women with a fam­ily his­tory of breast can­cer are at risk.

Re­al­ity: While hav­ing a fam­ily his­tory of breast can­cer may put you at a higher risk of de­vel­op­ing breast can­cer, most women (over 85%) di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer do not have a fam­ily his­tory of it.

Your risk may in­crease as you age, or if your pe­ri­ods start early (be­low 12 years old) or stops late (more than 55 years old). It is also higher if you have a per­sonal his­tory of can­cer­ous changes in your breast.

That said, even when breast can­cer af­fects mostly women, it can also af­fect a very small num­ber of men (less than 2% ac­cord­ing to Malaysian sta­tis­tics).

Myth: Wear­ing an un­der­wire bra in­creases your risk of get­ting breast can­cer.

Re­al­ity: Wear­ing a tight un­der­wire bra may some­times re­strict your abil­ity to breathe prop­erly, but there is no suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to sup­port the claim that it will in­crease your risk of de­vel­op­ing can­cer. The same goes for claims about de­odor­ants and an­tiper­spi­rants, and drink­ing from a plas­tic water bot­tle left in a hot car.

Even if you do not prac­tise any of the above, or are not cat­e­gorised in the high risk group, you should not take your breast health for granted.

Myth: Breast can­cer al­ways comes in the form of a lump in the breast.

Re­al­ity: The early signs of breast can­cer can dif­fer be­tween in­di­vid­u­als. Although a lump or lumps in the breast are more com­mon, other signs such as swelling, skin dim­pling (a dim­ple in the breast), an in­verted nip­ple and nip­ple dis­charge can also oc­cur.

In the ear­li­est stages, breast can­cer may also de­velop with­out any signs or symp­toms. This is when a mam­mo­gram is use­ful in de­tect­ing any early changes.

Myth: Her­bal reme­dies and di­etary sup­ple­ments can help treat breast can­cer.

Re­al­ity: So far, there are no her­bal reme­dies or di­etary sup­ple­ments that have been sci­en­tif­i­cally proven to treat breast can­cer, says Dr Mani­van­nan. It is im­por­tant for women to con­sult a med­i­cal doc­tor for the di­ag­no­sis or treat­ment of breast can­cer. Those who are in­ter­ested in start­ing al­ter­na­tive ther­a­pies when they are on treat­ment should con­sult their doc­tors be­fore do­ing so.

Cer­vi­cal can­cer

Myth: Cer­vi­cal can­cer, like many other can­cers, can­not be pre­vented.

Re­al­ity: Cer­vi­cal can­cer is one of the most pre­ventable can­cers be­cause some of its risk fac­tors and causes have al­ready been iden­ti­fied. Stud­ies have sug­gested that the most com­mon cause of cer­vi­cal can­cer is the re­peated and per­sis­tent in­fec­tion of cer­tain strains of the HPV virus (mostly HPV-16 and HPV-18). There­fore, HPV vac­ci­na­tion against these two strains can help re­duce your chances of get­ting in­fected.

That said, it is still pos­si­ble to de­velop cer­vi­cal can­cer due to other strains of HPV that can cause ma­lig­nant changes in the cervix. This is why even those who are vac­ci­nated should still con­tinue to go for reg­u­lar Pap smears so that early changes in cells in the cervix can be de­tected, says Dr Liew.

The ear­li­est signs of cer­vi­cal can­cer is un­usual bleed­ing, es­pe­cially in be­tween pe­ri­ods or af­ter sex­ual in­ter­course. So, you should con­sult your doc­tor if you have any of these symp­toms.

Myth: I’m too young to have cer­vi­cal can­cer. Af­ter all, cer­vi­cal can­cer does not run in my fam­ily and only pro­mis­cu­ous women get cer­vi­cal can­cer.

Re­al­ity: The in­ci­dence of cer­vi­cal can­cer in­creases with age, but even women in their 20’s can de­velop cer­vi­cal can­cer.

Un­like breast can­cer, cer­vi­cal can­cer is not hered­i­tary. There­fore, if none of your fam­ily mem­bers have the dis­ease, it does not mean you are at a lower risk of de­vel­op­ing it.

While sex­ual promis­cu­ity is a ma­jor risk fac­tor for cer­vi­cal can­cer, es­pe­cially when it starts at a young age, women who are in monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ships can still de­velop cer­vi­cal can­cer.

Myth: If I am di­ag­nosed with cer­vi­cal can­cer, I must have my uterus re­moved. Even if I don’t have to, I won’t be able to have chil­dren af­ter treat­ment.

Re­al­ity: Again, the treat­ment of cer­vi­cal can­cer de­pends on the stage of the can­cer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. If the can­cer is de­tected in the early FOR many Pink Oc­to­bers, breast can­cer aware­ness cam­paigns to ed­u­cate women on the com­mon­est can­cer among them have been an an­nual af­fair at the As­sunta Hos­pi­tal in Petaling Jaya.

But since four years ago, they have been able to bring their mes­sage be­yond hos­pi­tal walls with the sup­port of part­ners Asia As­sis­tance, Jaya One, and PJ Live Arts. The project Pas­sion­ately Pink, was launched on a wider plat­form to bring women of all ages closer to the ways they can pro­tect them­selves against breast can­cer.

In 2009, the project evolved again as the cam­paign or­gan­is­ers em­barked on the Pas­sion­ately You cam­paign to take on an­other chal­lenge: cer­vi­cal can­cer aware­ness.

This year, the Pas­sion­ately You cam­paign is back to raise aware­ness about breast can­cer and cer­vi­cal can­cer with a ral­ly­ing call, “Don’t Duck It”.

A cam­paign web­site, www.dont­duckit. com, has also been set up to ed­u­cate its vis­i­tors about breast can­cer and cer­vi­cal can­cer, and pro­vide them the op­por­tu­nity to pledge their sup­port for the cause be­fore the fi­nale of the cam­paign this com­ing Satur­day.

The fi­nale, which is the “Don’t Duck It” party, will be held at the Jaya One neigh­bour­hood com­mer­cial hub from noon to 10.30pm on Oct 22.

Women will be able to get their breasts checked for free, and those who are in­ter­ested in get­ting their HPV vac­ci­na­tions will also have the op­por­tu­nity to do so on that day. Vis­i­tors can also par­tic­i­pate in a raf­fle draw and en­joy var­i­ous per­for­mances that are sched­uled through­out the day. n For more in­for­ma­tion, please visit the cam­paign web­site www.dont­duckit.com. stages within the cervix, can­cer­ous growths or ar­eas can be re­moved by mi­nor surgery.

How­ever, if it is de­tected in later stages, or if the can­cer has spread to sur­round­ing struc­tures, ra­dio­ther­apy and a hys­terec­tomy (re­moval of the uterus) may be needed. Women who have un­der­gone both these pro­ce­dures will not be able to con­ceive af­ter treat­ment.

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