iSavta Blog / Health & Wellness / The Big C: Breast Cancer Awareness for Overseas Workers

The Big C: Breast Cancer Awareness for Overseas Workers

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It was my last week in Israel when I met a Filipina in Beilinson Hospital. Let’s call her Mae and she was diagnosed with 4th Stage Breast Cancer.


The room of my employer, who was hospitalized that time, was adjacent to where Mae was. It was so easy for me to know that there is a Filipina inside that room because I’ve heard some ladies talking in a familiar language.


Out of curiosity I intended to visit her and ask for anything that I could help if there is any. As I saw her lying down in bed, looking tired and uneasy, I felt bad about her situation. She’s pale, too much hair loss because of chemotherapy, weak and in pain. Good thing, she has a lot of friends who sincerely helped her and stayed with her in the hospital.


I was able to talk to her about her situation and she was not so hopeful about it anymore. The cancer had spread out to her lungs and bones and she was just waiting for her children to come over and be with them for the last time. She knew she won’t last long.


As much as I want to admire her because she’s brave enough to accept her fate, I cannot help but feel sorry for her. She was still young and she seemed to be a good person and friend. I found her irritable at times but that’s understandable since I can only imagine what she was going through that time.


In one of our brief conversations, she was able to tell me when she started to feel the symptoms of the disease. But, there is one thing that she told me that I couldn’t forget…”Do not wear a very tight bra”.


I have a degree in Nursing and somehow, I have a little knowledge about cancer in general. But, breast cancer in particular is a bit complicated. As complicated as it is, Breast Cancer became one of the common cancers that affects thousands of women.

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This 2016 alone, statistics shows that the Philippines topped the highest incidence rate of breast cancer among 197 countries of the world with an increase of 589 percent over a 30-year period.


According to Dr. Ellen A. Manzano of the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, around 500,000 women around the world die of cervical cancer every 47 minutes. In the Philippines, she said, at least 12 Filipino women die of cervical cancer each day.


These two dreaded diseases for women should be discussed in every corner of the country where women are exposed to everything that may cause cancer. People must consider the fact that breast cancer, followed by cervical cancer, is the leading cause of death among women.


But, no matter how scary and overwhelming these diseases are, there are always ways to avoid them or prevent them. Study shows that most breast cancer patients survived the disease by seeking medical advice as soon as they feel anything strange. Some women even prevented the possibility of having the disease by having regular medical lab tests such mammogram and manual breast check conducted by their doctors.


Decades of research, studies and experiments were spent to find the perfect cure for cancer but until now, people with cancer can only hope. Everyday, thousands of people around the world die because of it. Thousands of people are suffering because of it. Thousands of families are in pain because of it. As I’ve said, we can only hope.


When do you really need to seek for your doctor’s advice? What are the common and some rare symptoms of Breast Cancer? What causes it? What are the ways to prevent it? Are you prone to cancer? Do you have a family history of such kind of disease?


Breast Cancer symptoms usually starts with a lump on your chest. This lump should be examined by professional doctors, most especially by an Oncologist - a doctor who specializes in Cancer. The oncologist will get to examine the lump whether it’s benign or malignant.


But, before we discuss the difference between them, let’s be aware first of the signs and symptoms of Breast Cancer.


  1. Breast lump or mass - a lump that is moving are often benign but lumps that are hard, painless with irregular edges can be cancerous. But, you may also want to take note that there are soft, painful and rounded lumps that are cancerous too. It is really important to immediately seek your doctor’s advice if you happen to feel any abnormal lump on your breast.

  2. Swelling of all or part of a breast - though you won’t be able to feel any lump or mass, swelling of any part of your breast is a possible symptom of a breast cancer.

  3. Skin irritation or dimpling - if a part of your breast is irritated or dimpling, it can also be a warning to you. Skin Dimpling means the skin has a texture similar to an orange peel.

  4. Breast or nipple pain.

  5. Nipple retraction (turning inward)

  6. Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin

  7. Nipple discharge (other than breast milk) - do not ignore any discharges from your nipple.

  8. Lymph Node Swelling - Occasionally breast cancer spreads to the underarm lymph nodes causing a lump or swelling in the armpit

  9. Recurrence Symptoms - If a breast lump has been removed by surgery the woman will be closely monitored by doctors for subsequent years for signs of recurrence. So remember, even if your first lump was found benign, this would not mean that the next recurrence of a lump on your breast will also be benign. Do not ignore it.

  10. Symptoms Of Advanced Breast Cancer - Where cancer has progressed from the breast to other parts of the body, is said to be 'metastatic' (stage 4). Metastatic breast cancer can cause:


  • Bone pain throughout the body.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Reduced appetite.

  • Sudden weight loss.

  • Headaches and weakness.


If you happen to feel any from these symptoms, take yourself to a doctor immediately.


But before you’ll get yourself into paranoia, let me briefly discuss the possible risk factors or cause of Breast Cancer.


According to National Breast Cancer Foundation, “no one knows the exact causes of breast cancer. Doctors seldom know why one woman develops breast cancer and another doesn’t, and most women who have breast cancer will never be able to pinpoint an exact cause. What we do know is that breast cancer is always caused by damage to a cell's DNA.”


There are a lot of false notions about possible causes of Breast Cancer such as Coffee, Deodorant, Microwave, Cellular Phones and even close contact to a person with Breast Cancer. These are NOT TRUE.


According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, the following are mainly considered as known risk factors:


  1. Family History of Breast Cancer or Genetic Mutations

  2. Alcoholic Drinks.

  3. Getting Older - most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.

  4. Early Menstrual Period - women who started their period before age 12 are exposed to hormones longer, raising the risk of cancer.

  5. Late or No Pregnancy - pregnancy after age 30 or no full term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.

  6. Menopause after age 55 - similar to early menstruation, longer exposure to hormones can trigger cancer.

  7. Not physically active.

  8. Being overweight or obese.

  9. Using hormone therapy - Taking hormones to replace missing estrogen and progesterone in menopause for more than five years raises the risk of breast cancer.

  10. Oral contraceptives - although not all, some oral contraceptives have been found to trigger breast cancer.

  11. Previous treatment using radiation therapy - women exposed to radiation therapy for treatment before age 30 will most likely have breast cancer.

  12. Smoking.

  13. Exposed to Chemicals that can cause cancer.

  14. Stress and Lack of Sleep.

  15. Unhealthy eating habit.


Though I did not find on the list the “tight bra” possible risk factor, I personally make sure that I am wearing a comfortable undergarment (my size) as possible.


I’ve learned from a source that Mae passed away a few weeks after being in the hospital. I was happy to know that she was able to see her children and got to spend some time with them before her passing. Such unfortunate event is inevitable but as cliche as it may sound, “Prevention is certainly better than cure”.


As women, we are the one who is responsible of our body. We have to take care of ourselves, especially if we are very far from our loved ones. Do not be afraid to go to a doctor. Physical exam is not just for people who feel something odd, it is also for healthy people trying to make sure that they are healthy indeed. Do not wait for end stage where you won’t have any options at all. Cancer is a very serious disease and it has no definite cure as of the moment. Let’s stay away from it by eating, sleeping and living right. Let’s survive it by being aware and being involved.


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