With her slightly chubby face glowing with a broad grin, Rania wakes up every morning, opens her bedroom window to let in the sun's rays and savors the moment. Just two years ago she felt a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. A few months ago she was given the 'all-clear.'
Now the 38-year-old goes to work as a school teacher cherishing every moment of the day. Rania is one of the ever-increasing number of women diagnosed with breast cancer every year, but things have surely changed a lot. It’s not a woman's worst fear any more. Yet neither is it something we should think could happen to others but not us. In Egypt, the fear and denial regarding even talking about breast cancer is receding. Its occurence may be on the rise but so is awareness of the disease, and treatments are getting better by the day.
No more denial
According to recent studies published by the National Cancer Institute in Egypt (NCI), breast cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer world-wide following lung cancer, and the most common kind among women. The Ministry of Health has recently launched a campaign that aims to examine five million women above the age of 45 using medical moving units over the course of the next eight years. According to the ministry, breast cancer comprises 18% of the country's cancer cases.
"Well, it certainly is a global issue," says Dr. Tarek Elbulquiny, assistant professor in Pathology (Where? At the institute?), “The ratio of Egyptians diagnosed with the disease is getting closer to the Americans because of our similar bad eating habits. Asians are thought to be far better off because [their diet is better]."
Elbulquiny says efforts to raise awareness are required since he regularly faces women seeking diagnoses in late stages simply because they don’t know what they are facing or are in denial. He recommends women examine themselves regularly every couple of months and that they start getting mammograms at the age of 50 before they fall in the high risk category. This category includes those with relatives who have had the disease, suffering obesity, a high consumption rate of pills, undergoing hormone replacement therapy, with a sedentary lifestyle, or with neglected breast function, where the woman doesn’t breast feed. Sometimes it’s in the genes.
"Genetic analysis is now available where we can spot the gene right way before it causes trouble," says Elbulquiny, "This type of test is sent abroad and is highly reliable".
Fear is the enemy
Always remember that ignorance is not a bliss when it comes to breast cancer. Be aware, alert and spread the word to other women, reminding them that self examination is their best weapon and that most lumps turn out to be benign. Fear and ignorance are the real enemy, not breast cancer.
Self examination starts by knowing what's normal for you. You should know the normal appearance, texture, size, and everything else related to your breasts, then you will be able to spot any significant change. These may include any of the following: Lumps, unusual pain, discharge from the nipples or a rash around them, breast shape change, tightening skin and/or visible swelling.
Cherish your check list
Here are a few things you should keep in mind to always be one step ahead: Check yourself every now and then; eat fresh vegetables and fruits to increase your intake of anti-oxidants and fiber-rich food; exercise regularly; be aware that smoking, alcohol and extra weight are your enemies. Be aware that after menopause, there's more fat in your body and you'll have higher estrogen levels, which increase the risk factor. Finally, look into your family history. If a mother, daughter, aunt or sister ever dealt with cancer, especially at an early age, then you should be extra alert.