During a recent episode of the ‘One-O-One Katha’ program produced by the President’s Media Division, Dr. Hasareli Fernando, a specialist in community medicine, discussed the significant advancements in healthcare in Sri Lanka. She highlighted the expansion of healthcare services across the island, including the establishment of 30 new breast clinics in government hospitals under the supervision of oncology surgeons. These clinics, in addition to the existing Suvanari clinics and cancer early detection centres, are playing a crucial role in enhancing the early detection of breast cancer.
Furthermore, Dr Hasareli Fernando emphasized that while breast cancer cannot be prevented, early detection holds the potential for complete cure. This development in healthcare infrastructure represents a significant step forward in ensuring better healthcare access and outcomes for the people of Sri Lanka.
Expressing her views further Dr Hasareli Fernando noted;
Breast cancer ranks as the most prevalent form of cancer among women both in our country and worldwide. It’s important to note that men are not immune to breast cancer, although being female constitutes a significant risk factor. In fact, women face a risk that is 100 times greater than that of men in developing breast cancer.
Additionally, over 80% of breast cancer cases are reported in individuals aged 50 and above. A family history of breast cancer and genetic mutations contribute to the risk, with a 15% likelihood of breast cancer due to genetic factors. Those who have previously battled breast cancer are also at a higher risk of recurrence, as are women who have never had children and those who had their first child after turning 30. Factors such entering puberty before the age of 11 and reaching menopause after 55 years of age also pose risks that are beyond our control.
These risk factors are linked to estrogen and progesterone hormones in the body. Long-term use of hormonal birth control pills carries a slight risk of breast cancer, but this risk has been minimized through hormone combinations and pill formulations.
While some of these risk factors are beyond our control, there are modifiable factors that we can focus on, such as managing weight, dietary choices, regular exercise and alcohol and tobacco consumption.
The most effective method for early detection of breast cancer is through regular breast self-examinations, especially for women over the age of 20. It is recommended to perform these self-exams on a specific date each month. Health institutions consistently promote awareness about this practice.
When conducting routine breast self-examinations, individuals should be vigilant for any new changes, such as the presence of a lump, whether painful or not, alterations in skin texture, changes in colour or shape, nipple discharge, or nipple inversion. If a new lump is detected not only in the breast but also in the armpit, it is essential to seek immediate consultation with a qualified doctor. Referring to the “Suvanari Sayana” program through Medical Officers of Health offices is an option.
Moreover, the Ministry of Health has established five cancer screening centres in Narahenpita, Ratnapura, Matara, Batticaloa and Jaffna. Additionally, there are 30 new breast clinics operating under the supervision of specialist cancer surgeons in government hospitals across the island. Individuals can visit any of these facilities or hospitals promptly to undergo necessary tests and receive medical advice. While breast cancer cannot be prevented, early detection offers the possibility of complete cure.
Cancer cases are on the rise in Sri Lanka and globally. In 2020, Sri Lanka saw over 37,000 new cancer diagnoses, with more than 20,000 affecting women. Among these cases, breast cancer is the most common, exceeding 5,000 diagnoses in 2020. Breast cancer accounts for 26% of women’s cancer diagnoses. Worldwide, 2.2 million breast cancer cases were reported in 2020, with 685,000 deaths attributed to the disease. In 2019, Sri Lanka recorded 784 breast cancer-related deaths, including 18 among men.
Many preventable cancers are linked to poor dietary choices. To mitigate these risks, it is advisable to minimize consumption of fast food and be mindful of weight gain, which can contribute to certain cancers. While bread flour itself is not a carcinogen, it is associated with weight gain and some types of cancer. For adults, it is recommended to engage in at least half an hour of exercise per day, five days a week, to the point of perspiration. It is also crucial to avoid both smoking and smokeless tobacco products, as they are carcinogenic and contribute to oral and lung cancers, particularly in men.
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