The Earlier The Better
How a slight touch and a look can make a difference in breast cancer prevention.
Thirty-four year old Inpoet Arifin knew something was wrong with her when she found an irregular lump on her right breast in April 2011.
Knowing her family’s medical history with regard to cancer, the mother of one went directly to a hospital to have her breast checked.
Her fears were confirmed, as doctors diagnosed her with stage 2B breast cancer, which was categorized as an invasive type of cancer.
Less than a month later, she underwent a mastectomy a procedure that involved the removal of her right breast.
The businesswoman is still undergoing chemotherapy treatment that will continue until August this year before she can finally return to her normal life.
Despite all the pain, the fear and financial costs, up to Rp 20 million (US$2,160) for every chemotherapy session, she considers herself lucky.
“Many women only seek treatment when everything is already too late,” Inpoet said, referring to friends and family members who had also suffered from the same disease.
She stresses that what saved her was the courage to take action, not like other women who frequently ignore symptoms for fear of going through the painful and costly treatment.
“Many know about this [breast cancer] but when they notice lumps and pain in their breast they don’t want to go to the doctor because they are afraid,” she remarked.
Unfortunately, those women must pay an awful price for their choice of living in fear. As the disease progresses, the opportunity for successful treatment diminishes.
Recent statistics revealed by cancer specialist Sonar Soni Panigoro proves this bitter fact; more than 50 percent of breast cancer sufferers in Indonesia diagnosed at an advanced stage do not survive.
“Most patients come at a late stage,” said the doctor, who is also the president director of Dharmais Cancer Center in Jakarta.
He elaborated that the trend had not changed since the 1960s as cancer patients continued to wait before asking for their doctor’s help, by which time their disease had already reached the stage when it was no longer operable.
This makes breast cancer one the most lethal diseases for women in the country, data gathered from 30 hospitals from 2005-2007 has shown.
“Almost 30 percent of cancer cases found in women are breast cancer,” Sonar said of the statistics.
Sonar blamed the cancer’s high prevalence in Indonesia on society’s lack of awareness of early detection.
“The sooner the cancer is treated, the better is the chance of survival,” he said.
Another expert Adji Saptogino shared the same concern.
“The survival rate for a woman is lower when the diagnosis is at a later stage,” he said, suggesting women should have themselves checked before letting things get too late.
Adji referred to the medical studies that show patients with stage 0 breast cancer have a life expectancy of almost 90 percent but that the percentage declines the longer the cancer is left untreated.
Unfortunately, not many Indonesian women know about the importance of earlier diagnosis in breast cancer. The latest survey from the Breast Health Foundation indicates almost 80 percent of Indonesian woman do not know the significance of having routine breast screening to reduce the cancer risk.
“Most of these women are just afraid,” the president director of local hospital network Pondok Indah Group, Dr. Yanwar Hadiyanto remarked.
Therefore, the hospital has enlisted the support of eight top female celebrities in the country to launch a campaign that is aimed at encouraging women to have routine check-ups for early detection of breast cancer.
The campaign known as Deteksi Berkala Payudara Anda (check on your breasts routinely) or Delapan (Eight) calls on Indonesian women to have a clinical or simple breast exam that involves feeling and checking their own breasts for lumps or other irregularities.
“You can do it by yourself in the bathroom, see or touch for any lumps or swelling in your breasts every month seven to 10 days after the first day of your period,” suggested one of the campaign’s spokeswomen and TV presenter, Becky Tumewu.
This self detection can also be followed by other medical tests at a hospital, involving more advanced technology including mammography, ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging to get more accurate results.
Singer Andien said she was proof of how early detection could save lives from the frightening disease. The song siren was diagnosed with a tumor on her breast when she was still only 16 years old. Thanks to the findings, doctors were able to remove the tumor before it turned cancerous.
After the treatment, the 26-year old said she was actively involved in other breast cancer awareness campaigns in the country before joining Delapan as she knew how the cancer could affect anyone.
“I was living a healthy life with a healthy diet, no smoking or drinking but I still got it,” she said.
Apart from saving lives, top financial expert Ligwina Hananto explained how breast cancer early-detection could save someone from bankruptcy.
“I see how some of my clients have to spend a lot when suffering from breast cancer because the disease can not be cured by a one-time only operation only but also requires subsequent chemotherapy sessions that can be expensive,” she explained.
Therefore, she said, it was important for women to get an early diagnosis of breast cancer, if only to avoid the more expensive treatment needed to cure the disease at a later stage.
Through the Delapan campaign, Indonesian women will learn that all the trauma and pain inflicted by breast cancer can be prevented simply by touching and checking one’s own breasts periodically as well as following this with a routine check up at hospital should abnormalities occur.
A series of simple, non-expensive actions that saved Inpoet, Andien and can save thousands of other Indonesian women from this most deadly disease.