Everything is now about COVID, but remember the other ‘C’
A reminder this Breast Cancer Month
October, internationally observed as Breast Cancer Awareness month, always meant a plethora of activities from fun runs to mall-based pop-up booths to raise awareness about breast cancer screening, as well as to raise funds for patients under treatment.
ICANSERVE Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to women at risk of or living with breast cancer, would regularly lead community-based discussions to teach women screening guidelines: At age 20, women should become familiar with their breasts by conducting monthly breast self-examination (BSE); at age 30, women should continue monthly BSE and undergo a clinical breast examination (CBE) by a doctor or trained health worker; at age 40, women should continue monthly BSE, annual CBE and get a baseline mammogram.
COVID-19 changed all that.
Dr. Ellie May Villegas, a medical oncologist and past president of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, says patients and the public in general need to be encouraged to seek medical help at the earliest possible time. “Because of COVID-19, people have become afraid to visit their doctors or go to the hospital. But we must remind them, especially for cancer, when survival depends largely on early detection and timely treatment, that health protocols are in place in the hospitals. We control foot traffic, we have a triage officer, we observe physical distancing, we fill out health declaration forms for effective contact tracing, we separate COVID-19 areas from nonCOVID-19 areas, and we wear full PPEs (personal protective equipment),” she said at a recent online forum organized by ICANSERVE.
She cites a model created by the National Cancer Institute (US) that suggests that over the next decade (2020-2030), “almost 10,000 excess deaths from breast and colorectal cancer” may occur as a result of missed screenings, delays in diagnosis, and reductions in oncology care caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Norman Sharpless, NCI (US) director, writing about the study in Science
adds, “Beyond clinical care, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented disruption throughout the cancer research community, shuttering many labs and slowing down cancer clinical trial operations.”
Accepting the reality of the pandemic does not mean raising breast cancer awareness should come to a standstill. “Now, more than ever, we need to provide women with correct and life-saving information. Our barangay-based early screening activities may have taken a back seat during this pandemic but we’d love for everyone to take a front seat in our Kamay Gabay Sariling Salat sa Suso campaign,” says ICANSERVE chair Crisann Celdran.
The Kamay Gabay Kit will educate women at the barangay level about BSE and the importance of doing it regularly. It is composed of a beaded charm that demonstrates the average sizes of breast lumps typically found by those who undergo annual check-ups by health practitioners, those who do monthly BSEs, and those who do so occasionally. The largest bead represents the actual size of lumps discovered by accident for those who do not have regular check-ups or self-exams. The keychain charm is a visual resource and a reminder.
Each kit comes with a canvas envelope, a keychain bag charm, and a breast cancer resource guide available in English, Tagalog, or Bisaya. The Metro Manila Spouses Foundation, Inc. is the first to partner with ICANSERVE to distribute Kamay Gabay kits to women in the communities living in all 16 cities and one municipality of Metro Manila.
Dr. Villegas reminds the public to remain vigilant and not be paralyzed by the fear of COVID-19. “Remember the other C, cancer. If you need to see a doctor, we are flexible. We understand your fears, we can start with a teleconsultation or telemedicine. But you need to check yourself and if you find anything that needs a second look, get yourself checked.”
To donate or purchase Kamay Gabay kits for your chosen barangay, contact Myrna at +63919 006 9445, or visit
Dr. Ellie May Villegas is director of Cebu Cancer Institute, Perpetual Succour Hospital and section head of Medical Oncology, Cebu Doctors University Hospital
ICANSERVE chair Crisann Celdran hopes to raise awareness through Kamay Gabay despite the limitations on large group gatherings to protect public health