Universal alarm bell

PINKTOBER 2016 is 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 people.

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

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.

The top three ? breast, colorectal and 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).

Breast 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 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.

Inadequate family funds

Come October, all of humanity universally and in unison, suddenly open our eyes and start crying out ? being suddenly preoccupied by mums and dads fundraising by running, baking, cycling, singing and/or wearing pink to fund pioneering research towards breast cancer.

This is totally ridiculous, as no amount of efforts in this manner will make any difference to the monumental task in front of us, where we need national, regional and international governments, United Nations agencies, civil and private sector organisations ? all to join hands together and to deal with this universal issue ? a disease which cuts across all national, political, ethnic, age group, and income level boundaries.

Of the many millions of dollars aid money being given in the region for women’s issues, how much has in fact been allocated and/or used on breast cancer occurrence, screening, and/or treatment?

For example, the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development (Pacific women), a 10-year $320 million aid program funded by the Australian Government, supporting 14 Pacific countries to meet the commitments made in the 2012 Pacific Island Forum Leaders’ Gender Equality Declaration ? not a single thought was given by our leaders and neither the aid donors towards this very important topic.

World in apathy

For a layman or woman to even understand the scale of the problem, he or she has to recognise that, for example, during this October 2016 Breast Cancer Awareness Month, more than 4000 United Kingdom women will hear the devastating words “it’s breast cancer!”

And nearly 1000 more will die from the disease in this month alone.

The United States, on the other hand, was expected to have 40,290 deaths from breast cancer in 2015 alone, according to the estimates of American Cancer Society Inc. surveillance research 2015.

This is unacceptable for our planet earth and to humanity and is a shameful indictment to developed nations such as the UK and the US.

Human beings cannot continue to live like this, as if all national government apparatus is in hiatus, suffering from stupor and continuing to live in slumber towards this very important global issue.

The problems in our part of the developing world are much worse, where we have very severe infrastructure and resource constraints, with a lack of adequate trained and qualified personnel.

Global costs

Statistics for 2009 showed that only 5 per cent of global spending on cancer was aimed at developing countries.

This is deplorable indeed, as developed nations need to target their development aid budget in a much more responsible manner.

New cases of cancer diagnosed in 2009 alone, cost an alarming $US286 billion ($F589b), factoring in the costs of treatment, income lost to illness, and investment in research. Breast cancer accounts for nearly $28b, $16b of which is in the US.

For breast cancer, about $26b would be needed in the developing world to bring spending in countries with low breast cancer survival up to that of high-survival countries.

Major obstacles include the lack of adequate healthcare infrastructure, getting women to attend screening, and overcoming the social stigma associated with breast cancer.

There is also a crippling lack of appropriate resources and expertise that are needed for diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in developing countries, such as diagnostic mammography, the ability to carry out surgery safely and effectively, and chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy.

Gender violence preoccupation

Women’s rights movements in our region have not been that successful historically to create breast cancer awareness.

For emerging democracies, where women’s right’s movement preoccupation has often been cut out to issues of gender violence, homelessness, and other forms of inequalities that often come at the forefront of gender issues in our part of the world, breast cancer awareness is only now being slowly brought into the forefront.

Women’s organisations nationally and regionally, representing women’s interests still remain fairly muted when it comes to medical issues such as that which is the flavour of this month.

There is hardly much rhetoric or outcry from them when a woman dies from breast cancer, but a huge outcry and a monotone of protest about other women’s issues such as sexual assault or domestic violence. If the Pinktober drive is to be successful, there needs to be great energy and drive, thirst, motivation, and “unity of voices” on the part of women’s groups, so as to propel breast cancer issues to the forefront, where it can get support and traction from our national, regional and international leaders.

* Dr Sushil K. Sharma is an associate professor of meteorology at the Fiji National University. The views expressed are his own and does not represent the views of FNU nor this newspaper.

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