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December 15, 2009

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Beating breast cancer

Breast cancer has long been a taboo topic and women don't want to talk about it, much less get their breasts examined or take an uncomfortable mammogram.

But it's a big issue: last year, among each 100,000 women in Shanghai, 62.5 were patients of breast cancer, according to Dr Chen Kemin, head of Ruijin Hospital's Radiation Department.

Education, awareness and early detection are important for survival, says Chen. That means timely surgery and optimal treatment.

Treatment also focuses on psychological concerns and women's fears that they face a death sentence or that surgery will disfigure them and ruin their lives. Counseling helps surgery patients regain confidence and ultimate rehabilitation.

Free medical examinations, lectures on breast cancer and medical consultation were recently provided by doctors from Ruijin Hospitals and experts from GE Healthcare, a manufacturer of mammography and ultrasound equipment.

Last year, the China Anti-Cancer Association reported that breast cancer has been increasing at an annual rate of around 3 percent. In big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, breast cancer has ranked at top in terms of cancer incidence among women.

"Sometimes, breast cancer is more damaging psychologically than physically," says Chen. "When breast cancer is discovered at an early stage, timely treatment can be effective.

"The main problem is that the patient takes on too much burden and thinks of herself as cancerous, not as someone who has a removable tumor."

Surgery is common and preventive removal of the breast can lower the risk in high-risk people, says Chen. "But the imperfection and scarring, together with anxiety and discomfort from chemotherapy can cast a cloud over the patient."

At-risk groups include women with a family history of breast cancer, conditions such as hyperplasia (increased cells and density) of mammary glands, those who are obese or diabetic, those who had their first menstrual period before they were 12 years old, those who received radiation as infants or teenagers, or those who have long-term exposure to radiation.

Environmental factors and lifestyle - too much fatty, high-calorie food, too little exercise, too much polluted air - are also factors.

"Usually breast cancer is the result of many factors," says Chen. "No single factor is the cause."

Since breast cancer now affects women at a younger age, regular self-examination is advised. Women should ask their doctors to show them how. They should get to know their breasts and examine them for abnormalities every month, two or three days after the end their periods.

Early-stage breast cancer can be difficult to detect, so self-examination isn't enough. Regular checkups, mammograms or ultrasound are essential.

Chen recommends a healthy diet: "Excess fat provides a sound growing environment for cancer and too much alcohol can make cells change. Control intake of fat and calories, eat more vegetables and fish, avoid alcohol and coffee."

Recommended are cabbage, mushrooms, high-fiber foods, corn, beans, dried fruit, sesame seeds, pumpkin, peanutsand currants.


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