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A killer in our midst

Dr Sushil Sharma
Monday, October 30, 2017

Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2017 should be a universal alarm bell for us all on planet earth. The message it brings cannot be any clearer universally, in the face of statistics of the many deaths from breast cancer.

We as a people of planet earth can no longer remain complacent, waiting for October to come around annually — only then to think of the serious implications of the sad statistics for the longevity of our civilisation.

Globally, breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women.

The world is in crisis, and we require global caution for our very own survival and existence on our own planet earth, from this scourge, that many people of our planet are still not able to comprehend fully as a problem for our civilisation.

Pink and October

Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), also referred to in America as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), is an annual international health campaign organised by major breast cancer charities every October to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause and prevention.

In 1993 Evelyn Lauder, senior corporate vice-president of the Estee Lauder Companies, founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and established the pink ribbon as its symbol, though this was not the first time the ribbon was used to symbolise breast cancer.

A 68-year-old California woman named Charlotte Haley, whose sister, daughter, and granddaughter had breast cancer, had distributed peach-coloured ribbons to call attention to what she perceived as inadequate funding for research.

In 1991, pink ribbons were distributed to all breast cancer survivors and participants of the Komen New York City Race. Today, any generic pink ribbon can be used to represent breast cancer awareness while the Komen "running ribbon" has become a registered commercial interest

The pink ribbon is an international symbol of breast cancer awareness. Pink ribbons and the colour pink in general, identify the wearer or promoter with the breast cancer brand and express moral support for women with breast cancer. Pink ribbons are most commonly seen during BCAM.

October was the eighth month in the year according to the old Roman calendar until January and February were added to the start of the year.

The Old English name for October is Winterfylleth which is said to refer to the winter full moon.

October got its name from the Latin "octo", meaning "eight".

If this seems odd to you, considering it's the tenth month in the modern day calendar (Gregorian), which actually used to not be the case.

It was once the eighth month (in the Roman calendar) and the name simply carried over.

Breast cancer

There were an estimated 14.1 million cancer cases around the world in 2012, of these 7.4 million cases were in men and 6.7 million in women.

This number is expected to increase to 24 million by 2035.

Breast cancer was the most common cancer worldwide in women, contributing more than 25 per cent of the total number of new cases diagnosed in 2012.

No global statistics are available at the moment to update these figures to 2017.

The top three (1) breast (2) colorectal and (3) lung cancers contributed more than 43 per cent of all cancers for women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).

Cervical cancer also contributed about 8 per cent of all cancers (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is a group of diseases that cause cells in the body to change and grow out of control.

Most types of cancer cells eventually form a lump or mass called a tumour, and are named after the part of the body where the tumour originates.

The vast majority of breast cancers begin in the parts of the breast tissue that are made up of glands for milk production, called lobules, and ducts that connect the lobules to the nipple.

The remainder of the breast is made up of fatty, connective, and lymphatic tissues.

Breast cancer typically produces no symptoms when the tumor is small and most easily treated, which is why screening is important for early detection. The most common physical sign is a painless lump.

Sometimes breast cancer spreads to underarm lymph nodes and causes a lump or swelling, even before the original breast tumor is large enough to be felt.

Less common signs and symptoms include, breast pain or heaviness; persistent changes, such as swelling, thickening, or redness of the skin; and nipple abnormalities such as spontaneous discharge (especially if bloody), erosion, or retraction. Any persistent change in the breast should be evaluated by a physician as soon as possible.

Breast cancer is typically detected either during a screening examination, before symptoms have developed, or after a woman notices a lump.

Most masses seen on a mammogram and most breast lumps turn out to be benign; that is, they are not cancerous, do not grow uncontrollably or spread, and are not life-threatening.

When cancer is suspected, microscopic analysis of breast tissue is necessary for a definitive diagnosis and to determine the extent of spread (in situ or invasive) and characterise the type of the disease.

The tissue for microscopic analysis can be obtained via a needle or surgical biopsy.

Selection of the type of biopsy is based on individual patient clinical factors, availability of particular biopsy devices, and resources.

* Continued tomorrow.

* Dr Sushil K. Sharma is an associate professor of meteorology at the Fiji National University. Views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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