Breasts, breasts and breasts. There – we’ve said it. There is a stigma about mentioning such unmentionables, and the same goes for the word ‘cancer’; as a result of this stigma, millions of women die every year.
Safe & Sound is here to reverse that trend, promoting the early detection of breast cancer in the UAE through regular checks and shouting about the disease. The group is holding a slew of events across Dubai during October, to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. ‘Our campaign aims to raise visibility across the community,’ explains Sabina Khandwani, who set up the annual Safe & Sound event 14 years ago. ‘The disease should not be ignored or treated as a taboo, and women and their families shouldn’t be afraid to talk about breast cancer.’
The International Breast Cancer Research Foundation states that 1.5 million people worldwide will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, yet early diagnosis increases the survival rate from an average of 19 per cent to 93 per cent. This shows why awareness of the disease is so vital. ‘No one knows for sure what causes breast cancer,’ says consultant breast surgeon Houriya Kazim at Dubai’s Well Woman Clinic. ‘But we do know it is on the increase. We also know that there is more breast cancer in developed countries, which makes you wonder about the effect of pollution, diet and lifestyle issues.’
But what are the early warning signs? ‘In my case I had fluid leaking from my nipple,’ says Dubai resident Roberta Rees, from Brazil. ‘I actually wasn’t concerned because I had a couple of recent mammograms and similar symptoms post-breastfeeding. Luckily my mum urged me to seek medical help.’ Statistically, women who give birth later in life are more likely to get breast cancer. Roberta had her last child at 38, and five years later was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. ‘I was on the borderline,’ says Roberta. ‘It was likely to have been fatal if I’d left it another two months.’
She believes that events such as Safe & Sound create vital support networks for people in the region, and she strongly advises people who have any suspicions about themselves or a family member to seek help. ‘I did everything right, did regular checks, had mammograms, but still nothing showed,’ she explains. ‘Thank God my doctor was so sensible and sent me to a specialist. Don’t give up.’
Essentially, it’s a fairly easy cancer to cure – if caught early. Through its events this month, Safe & Sound aims to deliver this vital message. First up will be a bright pink fashion show at BurJuman this Friday (October 15), which aims to get the attention of the public through music and beautiful clothes. On a more serious note, this is followed by a free mammogram camp on October 22. This enables less privileged women to sign up for one of 2,000 free mammograms, provided at Al Zahra and the Canadian Specialist Hospital, funded by money raised during the year-long Safe & Sound campaign. The organisers urge people to recommend their loved ones for the free scans. The grand finale of the month-long programme is the annual Pink Walkathon, a 3.6km stroll through the Bur Dubai area on October 29. Thousands of residents take part every year, creating an impressive sea of people clad in bright pink outfits.
Don’t assume any of these events are exclusive to women, either. The organisers are calling for volunteers from all backgrounds, ages and both genders who believe in the cause, or have ever known anyone to suffer from the disease. ‘Over the past five years, lots of men are coming forward asking questions about where they can take their wives,’ says Sabina. ‘Women are becoming less isolated.’
Dimples: Any small or large pockets.
Size: Check the size of your breasts and if they have changed shape.
Nipples: Look for a reversing nipple (going in rather than out), or any indentations or rash on the nipple.
Discharge: Any strange-coloured discharge should be checked.
Armpit: Keep an eye on this area for indentations, swelling and lumps.
Lumps: Feel your breasts every few weeks for signs of tissue thickening or lumps. Don’t panic if you feel something irregular – nine out of 10 lumps are benign.
Who is at risk?
• If you have a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer, you may be more susceptible: a direct relative (mother, sister, daughter) with breast cancer doubles your risk of getting the disease.
• While breast cancer is most commonly found in women, it can also affect men (though the risk is around 1 per cent).
• The American Cancer Society recommends all women over the age of 20 should perform monthly breast self-examinations and undertake regular clinical breast exams.
• Women aged 40 and over should have an annual mammogram to safeguard their health.