Health minister’s message on Breast Cancer Awareness Day


22-October-2011

Dr Athanasius“Today, October 22, 2011, Seychelles joins other countries around the world in commemorating Breast Cancer Awareness Day. On this day, it is particularly important for all of us to reflect on the impact of this disease on our society and it is my privilege to address this issue today.

“As a woman, a medical practitioner and as Minister for Health, I am very proud to be associated with the myriad of activities that have been organised throughout this month of October dedicated to cancer awareness in general.

“Although male breast cancer is generally rare and usually overlooked, I would also like to remind one and all that the third week of October has been dubbed “Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week” in some parts of the western world and today I wish to make that known. We should make our men more aware of the cancers that affect them too.

“Cancer is a disease that affects all of us: men, women and children alike. It affects the young and the old. The burden even extends to family members and the community with dire social and economic consequences.

“Hearing the words “... you have cancer” from your doctor, is one of the most frightening, if not completely devastating experiences one can endure. It sounds like a death sentence to most, however, with the proper counseling and care, we can help our patients realise that this is not necessarily the end, but rather it should be the beginning of a process of learning the facts, learning how to stay strong and to fight, finding hope, and ultimately spreading the word that will help others and save lives.

“In Seychelles, breast cancer is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in women. With every passing year many more women are being diagnosed with this dreaded disease. Second only to cardiovascular diseases, cancers are the next most common cause of death - in 2010 a total number of 131 new cancer cases and 93 cancer related deaths were registered. On average around 100 new cancer cases are diagnosed annually.

“This current trend, according to researchers, is a reflection of our lifestyle, more specifically, what WHO terms as, the adoption of western lifestyles. Tobacco consumption, processed foods, sedentary lifestyles, exposure to infections and cancer causing substances are among risk factors which contribute towards this.

“The Ministry of Health does its utmost to mitigate the effects of cancer on our populace and wishes to increase the involvement of stakeholders’ country-wide, in prevention, education and awareness, and early detection. According to the WHO a large percentage of cancers may be prevented by simply avoiding tobacco usage, adopting a healthier lifestyle with regular physical activity and a good balanced diet.

When breast cancer detection is discussed, I reiterate that early intervention depends on women actively performing self examination of breasts every month, to detect lumps, superficial skin changes, and sores, early. Ultrasound examinations and mammographic imaging would follow any self detected abnormalities, once brought to the attention of a competent health professional.

“Other cancers in women, and men, rely on regular screening programmes in place, like Pap smears for all sexually active women for early detection of cervical cancer, and yearly digital exams or PSA blood tests in men over a certain age, to screen for prostate cancer.

“The key to early detection is always education! We need to spread the message far and wide. Our endeavour to teach our young population about the disease itself, and what is required of everyone concerned should remain a priority – in other words, we need to ‘help them to help themselves’, teach responsibility for one’s own health from very early on.

“For those who have already developed cancer, however, our ministry continues to provide curative as well as palliative care, which contributes towards improving the quality of life of our patients.

“The difficulties faced by those who strive to ensure early detection and holistic management of a disease like breast cancer, become even more pronounced in the face of diminished human resources, inconsistent screening services, inadequate treatment facilities in some cases, and, above all, financial constraints.

“Despite the difficulties encountered, our ministry is doing its utmost to address those issues. With the opening of the Diagnostic Centre earlier this year, our screening and treatment facilities have improved greatly, with state-of-the-art mammogram and ultrasound machines. In addition, our stalwart partners in the fight against breast cancer, the Soroptimists of Seychelles, have also donated equipment and funded a screening for breast cancer during this Cancer Awareness month, for women over the age of 50 years. Other partners, like the Cancer Concern Association, Diplomatic Spouses Association have also participated in helping the health ministry in this noble endeavour.

“I am a firm believer that breast cancer and other forms of cancer can be fought by providing the right information at the right time to individuals, particularly our youth, and through well coordinated family health and screening programmes. Only after these measures are accepted and assimilated will we see the fruit of our labour. Only then will we see a reduction in late detection of cases and sad outcomes for families and communities.

“Government, through the Ministry of Health, remains committed to working collaboratively with all stakeholders and national partners to promote policies and interventions that protect our individuals and communities.

“But each one of us has to be more conscious of our own responsibility to self, and adopt healthier lifestyles, exercise more and eat fresh produce and unprocessed foods. For men and women who have strong family histories of breast and other cancers, be proactive and involve a trusted health professional (nurse or doctor) in helping you start a regular screening programme for you and your family members.

To my staff, I urge you to promote cost-effective interventions at individual and community levels, to maintain the awareness and health education campaigns, not only in October, but year round; spread the word diligently, sensitising people to the importance of healthy diet and regular exercise, self-examination and awareness of self in every sense. Let us strive to build capacity for cancer detection and treatment.

And let us never, ever forget to pay particular and special attention to our patients’ spiritual wellbeing, and provide holistic support throughout the process.”

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