Thursday October 11, 2012
The fight against breast cancer
Stories by ELAINE DONG
A mammogram sponsorship programme that reaches out to underprivileged women is making a difference in the fight against breast cancer.
MOST women don’t know the importance of early detection, says Dr Dalilah Kamaruddin, head of Women’s Cancer Detection Centre at the National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM). “Some of it is due to ignorance, and some due to fear. They think it is better not to know (about cancer).”
Speaking at the NCSM building in Kuala Lumpur, Dr Dalilah spoke about the Mammogram Sponsorship Programme that is part of the Estee Lauder Companies Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign in Malaysia.
The campaign is now in its 16th year and has raised RM2.75mil which has been channelled towards research, treatment and care of breast cancer. More than one million breast self-examination instructional cards and pink ribbons have been given out to women around the country.
Under the programme, the NCSM provides breast health education and free mammograms to underprivileged Malaysian women in the high-risk group, aged 40 years or older and single mothers. The areas covered are rural villages and urban poor areas in the Klang Valley, Kuala Selangor, Klang, Segamat, Pontian, Batu Pahat, Kluang and Kuantan.
Estee Lauder Brand general manager Katrina Liew says that by working together with the NCSM and the College of Radiology all these years on the programme, they are constantly refining the process.
“We used to sponsor only the mammograms, which cost RM150 each time. But through feedback and experience, we realise that we’re not getting through to the right people. The people in rural areas may not know of the existence of the programme!
“So this year, we’re letting them use the funds for the entire process of awareness, from education to transportation, to the mammogram itself and even post-treatment,” says Liew.
The NCSM works with various NGOs to bring women to the centre for this purpose. One such NGO is Pergerakan Wanita Umno, whose members Rossaini Abdul Rahman and Almihadzar Atan relate their experiences with women in their area, Gombak.
“We feel it is our responsibility to care (about cancer awareness). A lot of women are shy to go for mammograms, because of lack of exposure. We always try to tell them that early detection is best,” says Rossaini.
Once a month, Rossaini and Almihadzar will gather 30 women from their housing area and bring them to the centre for talks and mammograms, with the funds extended to them by Estee Lauder Companies Malaysia through the NCSM.
“We hold mammogram screenings once or twice a month, on the first and/or third Saturdays. From 8.30am to 2.30pm, we can do up to 30 women. Through the programme, we’ve screened about 400 women to date,” says Dr Dalilah.
She says there is a lot of misinformation and uncertainty about breast cancer out there. For example, some women don’t even know what cancer is, and some think that every tumour is cancerous.
“When they come in, we do a clinical breast examination as well as the mammogram. We talk to them about breast health and about women’s health in general. We also encourage them to do regular breast self-examination. So far, we have detected two cases in every hundred women that we have seen. That’s quite a high percentage,” says Dr Dalilah.
The NCSM also uses the fund given by Estee Lauder Companies Malaysia to perform biopsies for the eligible, should a lump be detected. “We want to fully utilise the funds for all aspects of breast cancer prevention and treatment,” she adds.
Rossaini says she had a friend with Stage 3 breast cancer, way back before she knew of the work that the NCSM was doing to raise awareness. Now she feels happy that she can be a part of that work. She helps put up posters at the flat where she stays, saying that even if she cannot talk to every woman there, the information is there for them to read.
Dr Dalilah says the first step in the fight against breast cancer is early detection. Rossaini and Almihadzar agree, saying that there should be more information disseminated in rural areas.
The NCSM also strives to provide a holistic approach to cancer treatment, by providing a space for support groups to gather. “We don’t want to just do a mammogram screening for women and stop at that. We hope to be able to hold their hand every step of the way, through treatment and post-treatment support,” says Dr Dalilah.
Do your part
“We are also urging the public to help by donating to our Mammogram Sponsorship Programme,” says Liew.
The public can donate RM50 each at all Estee Lauder Companies Malaysia counters (Estee Lauder, Clinique, Origins, Aramis, M.A.C., Bobbi Brown and La Mer) in Parkson stores nationwide. The company will match every ringgit raised to contribute to the programme, which will sponsor free mammograms for the underprivileged in rural areas through the College of Radiology Malaysia and the NCSM.
Erratum: In our article on Sept 24, we stated that Dr Evelyn Ho was an oncologist. She is a consultant clinical radiologist. We apologise for the error.
Who needs a mammogram?
WOMEN should get one baseline mammogram done between age 35 and 40. From 40 to 50, it should be done yearly. From age 50 onwards, get a mammogram once every two years. This is because the effects of menopause and hormonal changes may result in frequent changes in the breast.
Those in the high-risk category should get one every year, from the age of 35 onwards.
Women should also do regular breast self-examination.