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Mistaken Fears of Breast Cancer Screening
Asma Raja
2013/10/20

Despite the Ministry of Health’s announcement of increased recognition and tracking of breast cancer, there is still for earlier detection of the disease among women.

Since the beginning of 2013, the King Hussein Cancer Center’s early detection unit has recorded 3532 cases, and expects to register a total number close to those in 2012 (5800 cases).

The latest official numbers published by the National Registry recorded 967 cases of breast cancer, as compared to 926 cases last year.

Afflicted women told AmmanNet that the reasons for the lack of early detection are fear of negative social perception and the high cost of screening requirements.

60-year-old Raoud Nabila was infected with the disease three years ago, but avoided screening out of fear – as a result, she has had a mastectomy.

Nabila says, “We are afraid of the sickness, that we will lose our hair and eyebrows from chemotherapy. Now it has taken our breasts.”

Nabila’s difficult period of treatment encouraged her daughters and neighbors to undergo early screening, thinking that this was the only way to prevent the disease. “If the disease is discovered early, it is still possible to treat, its size is small and won’t require mastectomy.”

35-year-old Amma Thakariat discovered the disease after hesitating for years to conduct a screening because of financial and community reasons. “The screening procedures are expensive and I needed to assemble one thousand dinars in total to complete all the tests for my tumor. Meanwhile, my neighbors and relatives were telling me to just leave this issue alone.

Breast cancer is not limited to elderly women. The most common victims are between the ages of 40 and 59, but official figures have recorded 19 girls with the disease between the ages of 19 and 25.

Thakariat said that breast cancer has become as common as the flu, and requires early detection. “Cancer does not spare anyone whether old or young – every woman must undergo screening.”

Director of the early detection unit in the King Hussein Cancer Center Yassar Koutaiba said that the growing number of cancer victims has pushed the national program for early detection to adopt awareness campaigns since 2007. “Awareness for early detection of cancer in its initial stages has been raised in the first and second stages from 5% to 40%.”

Koutaiba explained that early detection helps treat the disease because there is medicine for the early stages when the cancer has not yet spread outside the breasts. “When the disease spreads outside of the breast, it requires a longer treatment period with multiple medicines and costs, not to mention the patient’s psychological stress. This creates a lower rate of successful recovery.”

Koutaiba said that erroneous beliefs about cancer permeate society, even among elite and educated women. “Women do not like the screenings – they feel worried and afraid from the moment they enter the door. There are women who express fear that undergoing screening will make young men reluctant to marry their daughters.”

Financial cost is still an obstacle as well, but Koutaiba explained that one can become exempt from treatment costs via the Royal Court, where doctor bears the cost of diagnosis, X-ray and biopsy.

Community leaders have participated in awareness campaigns through the National Program for Breast Cancer since 2012 in order to increase social awareness about the importance of early cancer screenings.

Actress Juliette Awad has worked to raise awareness about the disease in disadvantaged areas through the Aram Theater Awareness Project. She tells women to give prioritize personal cancer screenings and men to encourage their wives towards undergoing the examination. “The woman’s wellbeing ensures the sustenance of her whole family’s wellbeing – her illness destroys the whole family.”

Sheikh Hamidi Murad, Islamic researcher, says that early breast cancer screening is a religious duty and that ignorance of it is a sin. “The Prophet said that your body is your right, and a right is a duty, and to abandon your duty is a sin.”

As the direct cause of breast cancer remain unknown, every woman remains vulnerable to affliction and should undergo screening for early detection.

Translated by Alice Su. See original in Arabic here.

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