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The killer disease that stalks more and more women

ASK any woman the disease she most fears, and she is most likely to say breast cancer. With the improvement of the quality of life throughout China and over-nutritious menus in some big cities, the disease has become probably the leading cause of cancer death for women.

By the end of 2010, about 226,000 Chinese women are estimated to be diagnosed with breast cancer, says Shen Kunwei, a professor from the Ruijin Hospital, affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine. Women in Shanghai have the highest incidence of breast cancer in China.

Generally, women over 50 years are more prone to suffer the disease, but Shen says that in China women aged from 40 to 45 are now the biggest group suffering breast cancer.

The total figure for the breast cancer patients in China is not available.

Aging, a family history of breast cancer and lumps in the breasts have proved to be the most significant factors. The risks increase slightly for a woman who has had a benign breast lump and increases significantly for a woman who has previously had cancer of the breast or the ovaries.

In recent years, the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer soared by 3 percent each year in China. In coastal cities such as Shanghai, the disease's mortality rate was increasing the fastest.

"What confuses me is that most women, who are splurge on expensive cosmetics and clothes, never even think of having a breast checkup," says Shen, who was at a seminar on breast cancer prevention and treatment held by Sanofi-aventis, a global healthcare company last month.

As a matter of fact, the professor says, early diagnosis through mammograms and regular breast examinations, including monthly breast self-examinations, can decrease the risk greatly.

"The checkup is very simple and inexpensive at 160 (US$23.53) to 180 yuan," Shen says. "The best time for a check-up is three to five days after the menses, because during this period estrogen has a slight effect on the galactophore, which is in a state of equilibrium, and it is easier for a doctor to discover the pathological changes."

Precaution is the best practice. Some health tips might help. Fresh fruit, vegetables, yams, mushrooms, bean products, carrots and green tea are proved to help decrease the risk of breast cancer.

Scientists have found a compound in green tea called epigallocatechin-3 gallate, which inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells. Maitake mushrooms, a popular Japanese mushroom, also have proven effects on the cancer. A compound D-fraction discovered in the mushroom stops the growth of cancerous tumors.

In addition, vitamin B12 stops the growth of cancer cells. It is given to breast cancer patients as part of chemotherapy helping to keep the cancer under control.

Proper physical exercise and breast feeding can also decrease the risk. However, heavy drinking and being overweight will increase the risk and the risk of cancer is much higher for overweight women after menopause.

Once a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, proper treatment can control the disease. About 80 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are alive five years later. That's compared to 64 percent in the 1960s.

In clinical treatment, Taxotere is the only docetaxel approved by China's Food and Drug Administration for early adjuvant chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. It is indicated for the treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer after failure of prior chemotherapy.


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