Doctors operate on a breast cancer case at the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital. Official data show that the disease used to appear in women between 35 and 45 years old, but the age range has dropped to 20 nowadays.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer among women in Vietnam, yet there is a very good chance of curing the disease if detected early, according to a senior specialist in the field.
While breast cancer is common, says Dr. Pham Xuan Dung, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital, it is reassuring to know that it is easy to detect.
Discovery in the first stage of the disease can give medical treatment an 80 to 90 percent chance of success. The probability drops to 60 percent if breast cancer is diagnosed in the second stage, but if it is not detected until the fourth and terminal stage, all a doctor can do is ease the pain and extend life for a short while.
The common symptoms of the disease, says Dr. Dung, are lumps in the breasts, thickening or discoloring of the breast skin, and nipples sinking or becoming rough or leaking liquid.
He says every woman aged 18 or older should regularly examine her breasts in front of a mirror to check for these symptoms and go to hospital immediately if anything seems abnormal. Any woman older than 35 should have a breast examination by a qualified doctor every six months or, at worst, every year.
Official data show that the disease used to appear in women between 35 and 45 years old, but the age range has dropped to 20 nowadays.
To lessen the risk of breast cancer, Dr. Dung prescribes plenty of fresh food like fruit and vegetables, and not so much in the way of salty or smoked food.
Breast cancer is commoner in Vietnam than ever: official figures record the rate of new cases in a year at nearly 21 per 100,000 women in the northern region, and 17 per 100,000 women in the south.
The disease has been the leading cancer among Vietnamese women since 2003, after many years of being second to cervical cancer, local oncologists said at a conference in late December.
Breast cancer is the current top cancer among women worldwide as it accounts for around one quarter of all cancer cases in females, they said.
Worse still, the rate of new cases in the developed world continues to climb, with North American and northern European countries reporting more than 91 new cases per 100,000 women every year.
Females who have early puberty and late menopause are more likely to get breast cancer, as is any woman whose family has a history of the disease, who remains childless or who has her first baby late.
The five leading cancers in women, in order of appearance, are breast, cervical, colorectal, lung and thyroid, while in men they are lung, liver, colorectal, stomach and palate, HCMC doctors said at the December conference.
But they pointed out that liver, stomach and lung cancer are usually discovered in their later stages, and between 84 and 88 percent of patients only become aware of their condition long after the onset of cancer.
Cancer kills 75,000 people every year in Vietnam, and is the most common disease in HCMC, the doctors said.
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By Thanh Tung, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the February 22nd issue of our print edition, Vietweek)