Manila Bulletin

Ev­ery­thing is now about COVID, but re­mem­ber the other ‘C’

A re­minder this Breast Can­cer Month

- By CARLA PARAS SISON Health · Pharmaceutical Industry · Cancer · Women's Health · Medicine · Society · Breast Cancer · Industries · Health Conditions · National Cancer Institute · Manila · Metro Manila · Cebu City · Cebu Doctors' University · NYU Langone Medical Center

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

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