Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Living 16 years with breast abnormalities

At age 23, Analiza felt lumps on her breast and her fear for breast cancer led her to attend the PBCN's 3rd Philippine Conference on Breast Cancer in the year 2000. The only girl in a family of four, they had lost their mother to breast cancer and all her brothers were very worried for her. To this day, she has been able to overcome her anxieties without submitting to any invasive or toxic treatments.

Upon learning of the environmental links to the disease, it was easy for her to understand what had most likely caused her mother’s breast c├íncer and had also placed herself at risk. Their home was where her father kept all the pesticides used in the rice fields nearby their home in the beautiful province of Bohol.

Soon after the conference, she had her first thermal breast imaging which confirmed both of her breasts to be abnormal. A doctor advised her to undergo a mammogram and excision biopsy of the 4cm lump in her left breast – both of which she did not do. Instead, she followed all that she learned from the PBCN. Two years later, she did a repeat thermal imaging which now showed her left breast to be normal but with her right breast still abnormal. She was able to avoid any damage to her breasts.

Analiza, standing 3rd from left.
In 2004, she was an active participant in the PBCN’s 5th Project BRCA, an intensive 5-day training course for breast cancer activists. With a wider knowledge and deeper understanding of breast cancer, she decided to again undergo the PBCN’s Battle Plan for breast cancer, but this time in a more intensive way than she did by herself.

At age 31, she had her 3rd thermal breast imaging which still showed an abnormal right breast though her left breast remained normal despite presence of a lump. This no longer worried her because it did not matter whether it was malignant or not. She remembered very well that all malignancies are definitely abnormal but not all abnormalities are malignant. What was important was that she had learned how to deal with her breast abnormalities – that hers may most likely be of the non-aggressive type and that any aggressive procedure may just likely harm her.  She would rather continue with all she learned from the PBCN in addressing her breast abnormalities.

Now age 39, she is preparing herself for marriage and felt it best to have another thermal imaging.  The results have shown inflammations and she will again be doing a non-invasive and non-toxic approach. She understands that her body is constantly at risk from varied environmental risk exposures and needs to again do “house cleaning.”

Whether or not she has breast cancer is no longer an issue for her. She feels fine with her breast abnormalities and has been able to manage her health all these years. Her example has even greatly influenced her family, friends and acquaintances in avoiding environmental risk factors in their daily lives. She admits that had she submitted to an excision biopsy, she may most likely have been over diagnosed and over treated at age 25 for the lump on her left breast and would probably have not been able to enjoy a full life for the past 16 years – specially now that she is preparing herself for married life. 

Only with knowledge and understanding of breast cancer can one be empowered to arrive at fully informed decisions and take action. As one can live with breast cancer, more so that one can live with breast abnormalities.

"Freedom from breast cancer!"

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sailing the unknown sea of breast cancer

From January to September this year, a total of 25 client-patients (68% below age 50) were mentored by the PBCN. The youngest was 22 and the oldest was 85. They all underwent an intensive period of detoxification and nutritional healing fortified by an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the environmental causes of breast cancer.

Ages 20-29      2                      Ages 50-59      3
         30-39      6                               60-69      3
         40-49      9                               70 & up  2
                      17                                               8
Prior to their individual protocol, 15 had been medically diagnosed positive with malignancy while 10 only had abnormal thermal breast imaging.  The PBCN maintains that having inflammations as shown from an abnormal heat pattern is enough reason for early intervention to be able to correct and reverse the condition without invasive and toxic measures. With conventional textbook medical practice, a positive malignancy must be determined thru a biopsy before treatment is done – surgery, chemo and radiation. 

It must be understood that it takes 5-10 years before the first symptoms of breast cancer are manifested. This is a primary reason why mammography has a very high margin of error of 20% to 40% false negative and false positive. In fact, any mammogram result needs to be confirmed with a biopsy. Worst of all, even women with physical manifestations such as engorged breasts, large lumps or nipple discharge are still subjected to mammography when it is clinically clear that breast cancer can already be assumed. History taking even without any diagnostic procedure can further validate physical examination.

These particular cases were prevented from undergoing unnecessary surgical procedures:

A 29 y/o was spared from aggressive medical procedures in Singapore.
Biopsy of right lump of a77 y/o was avoided because her left side was more abnormal.

A 66 y/o was prevented from a mastectomy in a tertiary government hospital.

Of the 15 who had been medically diagnosed and or treated prior to contacting the PBCN, none had any understanding at all of breast cancer and all regretted having submitted to invasive and toxic treatments which made matter worse for them and their families. All lymph nodes removed from 3 cases were negative for malignancies while only 9 out of 61 lymph nodes (15%) removed from 5 cases were positive. Their lymphatic systems have now become impaired by the loss of so many clear lymph nodes.  By having been mentored by the PBCN, four were spared from surgery and chemo while seven did not anymore undergo chemo. The three who submitted to surgery and chemo sought the PBCN as a last resort because they already had recurrence and/or metastasis.

Mammogram and or biopsy only---4
Up to Surgery only--------------------8
Surgery and Chemo-------------------3    

The following cases where spared from the debilitating effects of chemo and huge expenses.

After fully completing the PBCN's protocol, 66 year old Luz was so happy that her repeat thermal imaging after just two months showed a vast improvement of her very severe inflammations after her mastectomy. Furthermore, she has not been taking any of her previously prescribed maintenance medications for her scoliosis and hypertension feels great. She and her entire family are now more than ever fully decided not to undergo chemotherapy and continue all they have learned from the PBCN.

A 44 y/o  OFW nurse methodically cut-up in Dubai for a non-life threatening case of DCIS.

An 85 y/o case who has continued not to submit to chemo since her mastectomy in 2008.

No two cases of breast cancer are the same and this is why one should not be made to routinely undergo and submit to medical textbook procedures and treatments. Harm will always be known after the fact whereas utmost precaution reduces probability of harm and complications. To err on the side of caution is always of paramount benefit to a woman's welfare and well being.

Seventeen years of dealing with breast cancer have brought about the following healing perspective.

1. Empowerment of the individual – character, attitude, purpose and spirituality are qualities which strengthen her will and determination to scale the heights of healing and wellness. She must strive to maintain peace and happiness within herself all throughout her journey.  And only by knowing and understanding the environmental causes and risk factors of breast cancer can she learn how to live with the disease.

2. Support of the individual – Family and friends are crucial in lifting up her spirit and cheer her up as she runs the marathon of her life. Though she will seek the opinion of others, she alone must decide the road to take and whatever her decision, for as long as she is fully informed, must be respected and supported. Having her follow whoever provides financial help is NOT support but pressure or even coercion.  This can be also said of health insurance which automatically decides her treatment in the guise of care and support for its clients.

3. Safe Environment – An empowered individual with all the full support around her will be nothing if she works or resides in an environment that caused her cancer or that will expose her to more  carcinogens.  In confronting breast cancer, so many hard decisions have to be made.  She may have to resign from her job, change occupation or even transfer residence.  She needs to act decisively on the external condition in her daily life to reduce, if not eliminate identified environmental factors that can cause or aggravate her condition.

4. Resources – Expenses cannot be avoided but it is totally untrue and incorrect to think that having so much money and resources can buy a cure.  Nowhere in the entire world can a cure for breast cancer be found or bought, no matter how much money one has. There are only a wide array of treatments and protocols (both conventional and alternative) that have positive and negative results.  Breast cancer would not be a controversy if there truly is a cure.

In mainstream conventional practice,  the order above is reversed where resources is #1 and the individual is last. The more money one has, the more treatments are offered while the patient is given only minimal participation because of absence of full information. She would always be asked if she would prefer this or that, but how would she ever know?

In coping with breast cancer, it is the individual who is the ultimate and final player. And this is why the PBCN was started 17 years ago and continues to exist – to mentor breast cancer warriors.   


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rosa's Plenary 15 years ago

27 July 1999
Ottawa, Canada
Opening Plenary
2nd World Conference on Breast Cancer

A most beautiful morning to all the gallant women and men in the global movement for the eradication of breast cancer. My name is Rosa Francia-Meneses and I am from the Philippines.

When Laurene Clark asked me to talk in this opening plenary, I felt challenged. To speak before such a huge audience baring my soul, if not my chest…that is tough Yes, living with breast cancer is really tough. Tougher still when you have to recount the terrible pain of a not so distant past. It’s like scratching a wound and exposing the raw part of it. I go through this motion many times when I talk – so you can imagine how often I bear the pain.

Recalling the pain serves a purpose – to remind myself that dealing with it is living with breast cancer. As I do so today, I am reminded of the many other gallant women doing the same. My story is the same as every woman with breast cancer. 

In February 1997, after my two year old daughter refused to suck from my left breast, I went to a doctor because of a nagging lump I thought was dried breast milk. I went alone, thinking that it was a routine checkup. Nothing prepared me for the shock that followed.

He was not a doctor of my choice but one referred by my health maintenance plan. After enduring the pain of a mammogram, he coldly told me I had cancer and had to undergo surgery at once. He didn’t wait for any of my family’s presence for that heartless declaration. With utter disbelief, I told him I couldn’t have cancer – no one in my family had cancer. My ears then just shut off and I no longer heard whatever he was saying afterwards. Walking away from the hospital like a lost soul, I don’t even know how I got home.

My 21 year old daughter was eager to learn of the result. Suddenly, the tears I had been holding back flowed like Niagara Falls. No words came out but it was enough for my daughter to know that death was casting its shadow on us. My husband had to be brave for both of us. He brought me to his childhood classmate who was a cancer surgeon. I must have been stricken with total numbness for I just left everything up to them.

His friend had me immediately confined in preparation for a frozen section biopsy. Being both ignorant, we left everything up to the doctor. Again, nothing prepared me for what happened later on.

I was brought to the operating room early in the morning and regained consciousness from the anesthesia early evening. Upon opening my eyes, I saw the sad faces of my family and friends around me. I thought I had died. My body felt torn apart, like some blasted wall. I instinctively reached for my heart where the pain hurt most. Realizing that my left breast was gone, I could only wish I was back in my mother’s womb.

The days that followed were like preparing for a final exam. My husband and I devoured as many information available on breast cancer and sought anyone with knowledge of this disease. It was to get myself ready for chemotherapy because I was given a very bad prognosis of advanced breast cancer with 16 out of 23 lymph nodes found malignant. With chemo, I was being given a 5 year statistical chance of survival but without chemo, I was not to survive more than two years. Five months later, I had not yet submitted to any further assault on my body.

By fate, a friend had informed me of the 1st World Conference on Breast Cancer in Kingston, Ontario. This time, my feeling was not for anyone else to decide for me. I had to be fully armed with knowledge and understanding before facing another battle.

I gathered all my inner strength to travel all by myself for the very first time outside my country, at a great distance on an extended airfare payment just to attend that historical conference in July, 1997. It turned out that I was the only breast cancer delegate in attendance from the Philippines. It was as if I was the only one with breast cancer from my country.

I clearly remember that time when I was among the audience, simply overwhelmed as I listened to the plenary talks of the late Bella Abzug, DevraDavis, Annie Sasco and Sandra Steingraber. By some unexplained force, I was drawn to the concurrent session of Joan Reiss. As she presented, I was already contemplating on what had to be done to prevent my three daughters from getting breast cancer.

Traveling back to the Philippines, I chanced on Akiko Domoto at the airport and told her of my intention of holding a similar conference in my country, no matter the burden for a sick woman like me. At hindsight, there seemed to be an unseen hand leading me to people who would later mean much to what I would be undertaking.

The Kingston Conference was the reason why my husband and I have decided to commit our lives to the movement for the global eradication of breast cancer – to live or even die so that others may live. The conference galvanized me and to this very day, I have not submitted myself to any form of chemotherapy or radiation, 29 months after my radical mastectomy. How did I manage to stretch the time, struggling to live to once again be with all of you, not anymore the “lost” soul from the Philippines but as a plenary speaker.

Immediately upon my return from Kingston, along with my husband and a few close friends, I established the Philippine Breast Cancer Network on the 28th of August 1997, patterned after the Canadian Breast Cancer Network.

Against many odds, we were able to hold the first ever Philippine Conference on Breast Cancer on October 1998. We were blessed with the presence of Andrea Martin of The Breast Cancer Fund, Kimiko Goldberg of the Japan Breast Cancer Network and Cindy Termorshuizen (representing Akiko Domoto of the Japanese Diet). Devra Davis sent invaluable materials which have since become the core of the PBCN’s information and awareness initiatives.

In spite of the spiraling increase in breast cancer incidence and mortality in the Philippines, no considered the highest in Asia, there has been no organization whether private or government focused on the issue of breast cancer alone, prior to the PBCN. All were general cancer groups that were hospital based, initiated by doctors and which maintained a purely medical point of view. All were just preoccupied on how to cope with medical treatments, how to accept one’s fate and how to prepare for one’s death. None at all even slightly touched on the causes of breast cancer.

Breast cancer patients in the Philippines have no rights. They have no right to speak or to ask. They have always been considered to be the walking dead – people to take pity on and offered prayers for. It’s just tough luck if one gets breast cancer in the Philippines.

During the recent public deliberations on the Total Ban of incinerators in the Philippines, our Department of Health (DOH) wanted an exemption for medical incinerators, our Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) wanted an exemption for chemical incinerators and our Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) wanted an exemption for solid waste incinerators. Our own government and not the private sector were unsupportive of the total ban. During the Belgian Dioxin Scare, our DOH stated that our government was not in any position to act on dioxin in our food, water and air supply, even as far as saying that “a little amount of dioxin was nothing to worry about.”

The 5-Year Health Priorities for Research of our Department of Science and Technology (DOST) focuses on cure and treatment and simply looks upon cancer as an unavoidable cost of progress. Our Department of Agriculture (DA) actively promotes and encourages chemical farming. Our tri-media is more concerned with sensational news of rape and kidnapping, not knowing that the same level of violence is committed everyday of hundreds of women diagnosed with breast cancer.

The greatest risk of getting breast cancer tomorrow is being born today in a developing country. The greatest risk of not surviving breast cancer today is being a woman in the Philippines. But now, the landscape of breast cancer in the Philippines is changing. To this day, the PBCN has been able to enlist more than two hundred women with breast cancer and several hundreds more of women at risk of getting it. The PBCN has conducted a series of 7 lectures and 6 symposiums all over the archipelago that had more than a thousand in attendance. On October this year will be held the 2nd Philippine Conference on Breast Cancer.

A month ago, a nurse who was moved by one of our provincial symposiums; a daughter who had just lost her mother to breast cancer; and a female surgeon who is disturbed by the high incidence rate in her locality – each made separate contact with us expressing their desire to do something. To commemorate the PBCN’s 2nd year of existence with the help of these 3 women, the PBCN launched the first ever breast cancer prevention project in the Visayas, the first ever “Fight Breast Cancer Week” in the University of the Philippines and the first ever breast cancer symposium for Philippine Muslim women. Talk about things just happening through some unseen hand.  

The PBCN has been moving forward and taking strong action, breaking the silence and shattering the walls of apathy and ignorance. We have been taking a journey in unknown territory that has never been seen in the Philippines. We have had to rely on help from friends here and there, now and then, in whatever form and in whatever way. We continue to uphold and defend our dignity and self-esteem, never cowing to statements that in fund raising, “beggars can’t be choosers.” Though we have not received any major funding from whatever source, we will never beg for our lives.

Four months ago, I attended a breast cancer conference in Brussels, organized by the US National Breast Cancer Coalition. A week before, I had surgical removal of a lump due to recurrence. This did not stop me from traveling because it was my first opportunity to be a plenary speaker in an international setting. What almost prevented my attendance was the Belgian Embassy in Manila. They doubted the conference and they doubted me. It took five visits and several communications within a brief period before I was finally issued a visa – and believe it or not, just a day before my flight departure.

Recurrence for a woman with breast cancer is of extreme anxiety. But the recurrence of a foreign embassy’s arrogance and discrimination of women living with breast cancer makes matters far more unbearable.

Today, I stand before you, a single-breasted woman with a recurring hurt in my heart. I bear with me the memory of sixteen women from my country who have gone ahead and the faces of five women of my delegation who should have been among you right now, to witness this historical conference.

The Philippine delegation to this 1999 World Conference onBreast Cancer underwent a radical mastectomy, performed by a supposed embassy of goodwill and friendship which has made them diplomatic surgeons armed with the skill and precision only a woman who has lost her breast can never forget. The Philippine Canadian Embassy felt that this World Conference was not reason enough to be granted an entry visa and worst of all, considered the Philippine delegation a scam. My five colleagues: a nine year breast cancer survivor, a medical doctor, a nutritionist and two physical therapists never felt so rejected and humiliated in all of their lives. They had prepared and looked forward to coming with me, most specially Chit Marfil, who said, “Do I have to undress and show these embassy consuls the scar on my chest?” Like men in white, these diplomats felt no need to neither explain themselves nor apologize for their acts.

Imagine the shock I got when our delegation was called a scam and denied visas? A delegation that I had long worked for to realize? They cut up my delegation just like when my breast was cut off. They had rudely and coldly shut the door that was opened two years ago in Kingston where I was also all alone. I find myself all alone again. What does it have to take for a woman to wage battle with breast cancer?

Not only are we faced with the uncertainties of medical science and the greed of a cancer industry, but now, we are even insulted with the indifference and callousness of a host country’s embassy officials. This incidence has now become an international concern. The outpouring of letters from all over the world in support of the rejected PBCN delegation to the conference has finally shown the true meaning of global action.

But then there will be no winners- only losers. On the side of the Canadian Embassy, their decisions must not be questioned, much more be pressured. On the side of the Philippine Breast Cancer Network, our motives and actions must not be undermined, much more, be insulted. On the side of the organizers, of this world conference, this undertaking must not be doubted, much more, be exploited. On the side of women all over the world who are afflicted with breast cancer, our condition must not be compromised, much more, be aggravated.

Women have long been the watershed of man’s bruised ego. And when she gets breast cancer, she becomes his nightmare. She is cut, burned and poisoned but much worse, she is doubted, insulted and robbed of her dignity. She who nurtures life has lost her value. How much longer does this have to go on? How many more women have to get breast cancer?

I call on every country to each have a national breast cancer network with a patient’s perspective. I call on the creation of a World Breast Cancer Network. Our numbers have been growing and the army of breast cancer warriors are uniting and closing ranks for one purpose. Together we will change the world that all our daughters may never experience the pain and agony of breast cancer.

And just by being with all of you today, I feel no longer alone. I may have lost a breast and I may even lose my life, but I will never lose my heart.

To each of you, I give all my love from deep beneath my bare chest.

Monday, July 7, 2014

HUMAN NATURE - Pink marketing at its worst!

When a woman hears the word MAMMO, what enters her mind?

Try typing the letters MAMMO in your search engine and see what comes out - Mammoa film by Shyam Benegal released in 1994.....A "long bomb" home run as first described by Atlanta Braves career player and third baseman Chipper Jones (#10) ..........Mammo: Mammography/ Breast Imaging......or referring to the mammary gland.  Of these four, what would be the most common understanding to one's mind upon hearing the word MAMMO?

Well, there is now a self-proclaimed "pro-Philippines, pro-poor and pro-environment" passionate enterprise called HUMAN NATURE that provides personal care products in the Philippines, the United States of America and other countries worldwide. Unfortunately, it turns out that this company is anti-women and really only interested in making millions from the lucrative and huge market of women because of its corporate support and promotion of mammography.

In a message received by the PBCN on 20 June 2014 from the company's President Anna Meloto-Wilk: "MammoMe was an initiative of Kasuso Foundation and they were the ones who approached us regarding the idea. Since we are a company that believes in a healthier lifestyle and in promoting products that are safe, we think it's a great collaboration."

"The name of product itself - MammoMe - also came from the party of Kasuso Foundation and their agency. The root word "mammo" refers to the breasts, to the mammary glands, and is in no way intended to relate to mammograms."

"If you look at all our promotional materials, you will see that we heavily concentrate on instilling the habit of doing breast self exam which every consumer can do without any help from a doctor. We firmly believe this is a great way of empowering women in taking better care of their health and in knowing their body better."
"Lastly, a big part of MammoMe is helping indigent women who need financial help in getting the health care they need. A significant portion of the proceeds go to funding medical treatment for them."

Is the company into prevention of breast cancer or treatment of the disease? Are the company's products meant to prevent breast cancer or meant to augment breast cancer detection?  It proudly states that their products are 100% NO harmful Chemicals and yet they are telling women to regularly self-exam their breasts in the shower. Well, the more you consume their natural body wash product, the better for them cause most women will never feel a lump in the shower until it is already palpable. So what good is the company's campaign to fight breast cancer? There is NO such thing as early detection because it takes 5-10 years before the first symptoms of breast cancer are manifested. Furthermore, once a breast lump is felt in the shower, what next? Aha! You are to undergo a mammogram! So can  Anna Meloto-Wilk honestly insist that their product in no way is intended to relate to mammograms?

Mammo-you, Mammo-Me?  To my knowledge, this is the very first time that a company in the whole world has engaged itself in the full support and promotion of mammography! (The PBCN challenges the company to market Mammo-Me in the USA.)
One in 13 Filipino women will get breast cancer in her lifetime BUT is this meant to instill fear or should it be taken as a wake-up call for women to act on preventive measures instead of detection? To take action on eliminating the environmental causes of breast cancer such as paraben in personal care products! 

Sadly, Anna Meloto-Wilk has allowed herself to be grossly misled by vested interests of the breast cancer industry to believe that lowering one's risk of breast cancer is solely on diet& fitness, breastfeeding and monthly self-exams.  Think about this: a woman has a negative reading from her annual mammo year in and year out till one day, there is a suspicion and finally, she is said to have a malignancy. So where is prevention? Self-exams, especially mammo is just to tell you of an existing problem - not preventing it from happening.

HUMAN NATURE has to immediately change their entire campaign into breast cancer prevention - NOT breast cancer detection. They are very much in a position to do so because of their paraben-free products!  By heeding this serious and urgent concern, Anna Meloto-Wilk can now truly say that her company is Pro-Women! Meanwhile, HUMAN NATURE is just another pink washer!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

PBCN Position on Senate Bills on Breast Cancer

Philippine Senate Committee on Health
Public Hearing on SBN 1873
10am, Tuesday, 20 May 2014

I am registering my strongest objection to Senate Bill No. 1873 authored by Sen. Trillanes, as well as SBN 2114 authored by Sen. Santiago and SBN 354 authored by Sen. Legarda.

Our country has had the highest increase in breast cancer incidence rate worldwide for the past 30 years, where today, is the highest in Asia and 11th highest worldwide. One in every 13 women will get breast cancer which is a serious and urgent public health epidemic that has never been fully addressed by government. To even aggravate matters, SBN 1873 and SBN 354 will further worsen the situation by opening the floodgates, leading thousands of innocent victims to the medical-pharmaceutical slaughterhouse of slash, poison and burn.  

According to the US Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, an estimated 30% of all breast cancer cases (both invasive and DCIS) are considered to be over diagnosed and over treated. Over diagnosis is diagnosis of cancers that would not have presented within the life of the patient. Overtreatment can occur in two ways—either in over diagnosis, where any treatment is unnecessary, or with the administration of more aggressive therapies than is necessary. It has recently been estimated that one to three deaths from overtreatment occur for every one breast cancer death avoided.

Despite the PBCN’s concerns submitted during Public Hearings to both Houses of Congress since 2010, government has not taken any concrete action to curtail the most common form of cancer that has caused tremendous misery, sufferings and untimely deaths to thousands of women –young or old, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, with or without child, Christian or Muslim, urban or rural. Instead, the Department of Health and PhilHealth have even embarked on programs that have even worsened the breast cancer crisis.

In May 2011, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Cancer Society launched a medicine access program through a patient navigation scheme targeting indigent women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Health Secretary Ona said that cancer is a costly disease, with the cost of medicines and treatment way out of reach for many of our people. The scheme would provide medicine entitlements to poor and vulnerable sectors for priority disease such as cancer. Has the Senate ever looked into the progress or failure of this program?

In July 2012, Philhealth launched the Z Benefit Package, providing for P100,000 for the entire treatment for early breast cancer. But in reality, PhilHealth members prefer going to private hospitals rather than any government hospital. Majority of  patients in government hospitals seek free medical treatment but are not PhilHealth members. Has the Senate ever reviewed the progress or failure of this program?
Participating in above-mentioned breast cancer treatment programs were the East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC), the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center (JRMMC), the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and the Rizal Medical Center. PhilHealth also includes contracted government hospitals in each region. Has the Senate ever made an investigation on the success or failure rates of all these hospitals in their respective treatment of breast cancer?

Without knowing and validating diagnostic and treatment success or failure rates, this August Body is now intending to fund another “white elephant” in supposedly addressing a known environmental disease? Despite the fact that Philhealth has a gigantic reserve fund of Php117 Billion to fund the Z Benefit Package, why does SBN 1873 want to allocate additional funds?  Is this another Napoles scam in the making in the guise of addressing a public health crisis by exploiting breast cancer? Or is this another diversion of funds for the coming presidential elections, similar to when PhilHealth spent a large amount for TV Ads for the former PGMA in the 2004 elections?

Going back to PhilHealth’s Z Benefit Package for breast cancer:

1.      How are patients diagnosed with breast cancer? By mammograms? Is the Senate Committee on Health aware that mammography is now under extreme doubt as to whether it is truly reliable and whether mammography has significantly saved lives? Very recent studies, most notable of which was the 25 Year Canadian Study which concluded that annual mammography in women aged 40-59 does not reduce mortality from breast cancer and 22% of screen detected invasive breast cancers were over-diagnosed. In a 10 year German study, it showed that mammography did more harm and had negligible benefits.  The Swiss Medical Board acknowledged that there was no evidence to suggest that overall mortality was affected while emphasizing the harm of mammography  — in particular, false positive test results and the risk of over diagnosis.

2.      What is PhilHealth’s definition of Early Stage Breast Cancer because in its selection criteria were stated Stage 0 up to– Stage 3A?  It seems PhilHealth does not even know what early stage breast cancer is.

3.      What are the safeguards against over diagnosis and over treatment?  Many cases are of the DCIS type (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) which is non-invasive and when left untreated, will in many cases not develop into a  life-threatening disease.

4.      Why are only specific chemo drugs included in the list? Is it because they are the most effective, the cheapest or the only ones available? Worst of all is if these particular drugs are in need of human experiment or about to be phased out!  For example, Avastin was approved by the USFDA for metastatic breast cancer in 2004 only to be revoked in 2011because there was no evidence that it extended life or improved quality of life while causing severe adverse reactions. 

5.      What would be the standard treatment since medical institutions vary in their  respective approaches to breast cancer? For the same breast cancer patient, opinions vary between surgeons and oncologists and between surgeons themselves and oncologists themselves.  
So why then will all the above mentioned Senate Bills be enacted and funded when it is very clear that more harm than good will happen? It is imperative that our Senators conduct a deeper inquiry on WHY our country has a breast cancer epidemic and what must be legislated to truly address this public health crisis – not by seeking a cure but focusing on the environmental causes of breast cancer.       

Presently severely tarnished by the pork barrel, the Senate can possibly redeem  itself by enacting laws to protect all women from the scourge of breast cancer, a few of which are the following which will not cost a centavo:
1.      STOP mandatory annual chest x-rays for all government employees and make it optional for companies and schools during pre-employment and pre-enrollment. This alone will drastically reduce breast cancer because all women regardless of health status are being unnecessary exposed regularly to at least 1,000 millirads of radiation.

2.      STOP the use of hormonal contraceptives in its population control program because breast cancer is a hormonal disease. Women will not be placed at risk of breast cancer when the use of other methods such as condoms and rhythm method are encouraged instead.  

3.      STOP operations of air-water-soil contaminating industries regardless of environmental clearances - specially identified mining operations that continue to spill cyanide and mercury in the waterways of our country.

4.       STOP the use of triclosan and parabens in all productions of various cosmetics and bath soaps/shampoos among other common consumer products. A Safety Chemical Act needs to be legislated to keep our people healthy and not be at risk of developing cancer from these identified carcinogenic substances.

      Danny Meneses
      Philippine Breast Cancer Network

SIGN THE ONLINE PETITION  now to junk all pending Senate Bills on Breast Cancer. We can no longer be silent!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Breast Cancer and the Philippine Senate

In several occasions in the past years, the PBCN had attended Congressional and Senate public hearings on proposed legislative bills on breast cancer. In all of them, focus was on early detection by annual mammograms. The PBCN always submitted its position against mammography and instead proposed efforts to address this public health epidemic with prevention actions.

As can be seen in the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th Congress, all proposed Senate Bills carried a medical perspective and upon further study, were actually lifted from similar bills proposed in the US Senate.

SBN 2019 of Sen. Santiago was on the hospitalization of women medically with breast cancer but who have health plans.

In the 14th Congress, SBN's 2017 of Sen. Santiago, SBN 1815 of Sen. Villar and SBN 78 of Sen. Legarda were all focused on mammography and early detection.

SBN 3071 of Sen. Trillanes was about breast cancer benefits in Philhealth's coverage of its members.

SBN 1784 was for the enactment of Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2007 in continuation of her SBN 2019.

For the 15th Congress, SBN 1399, SBN 1110 and SBN 189 were for the enactments of previous bills proposed by Senators Legarda, Villar and Trillanes.

It was during this period that the PBCN attended a public hearing and submitted its position while voicing out its strong view on the matter of early detection and vehemently questioned the medical perspective on breast cancer, while urging government to look into and act on the environmental causes of the disease.

In the current 16th Congress, the Senate is about to enact the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act by Sen. Santiago, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Potection Act by Sen. Trillanes and the Breast Cancer Detection Act of 2013 by Sen. Legarda.

All these acts will not only result into the furtherance of a public health epidemic beause of overdiagnosis and overtreatment but worse, will not stop our women from getting breast cancer. The Philippines has had the highest increase of breast cancer incidence worldwide for the past 30 years and yet nothing is being done to identify and eliminate the environmental causes of breast cancer.

The most recent studies in North America and Europe have already confirmed what the PBCN has long been saying about mammography and early detection. Yet our "well-meaning" Senators have either refused or have been coerced by the multi-billion medical-pharmaceutical industry not to act in favor of our people.

The Senate Committee on Health chaired by Sen. Guingona has scheduled another public hearing on breast cancer this May 20th 2014 and the method by which the PBCN was being invited was very much insulting. Without any previous communication, they called to simply ask if the PBCN would be interested to attend. Attend what? Another circus of totally uniformed Senators on the true issues on breast cancer?

The PBCN still hopes for a courageous Senator who will truly champion the welfare and interests of our people! That of eliminating the environmental causes of this public health epidemic that chooses no one regardless of economic or social status. Breast Cancer does NOT have to happen!  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Big trees and breast cancer

Sometime in September 2013, I was brought by two sisters and a brother-in-law of mine to the North Grove Trail of the 26 sq km Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Arnold, California. Our mother had just succumbed to cancer and they brought me around before I headed back home to the Philippines.

The wonder and miracle of nature can not but occupy one's mind in the midst of these big trees. For me, it furthered my comprehension of nature's most often disregarded miraculous healing process.

Giant sequoias (also known as Sierra redwoods) are said to be the largest living things to exist on earth. Their fossil record dates back 180 million years to the age of the dinosaurs when these trees could live over 3,000 years. They grow as tall as 90 meters high and as wide as 17 meters in diameter.

Giant sequoias evolved in the presence of fire; they have not only adopted to it, but depend on it in several ways. Heat from fire causes the cones to open and release their seeds. Fire clears the ground of duff, litter and brush, so the tiny seeds can reach mineral soil and receive plenty of sunshine.

The thick bark does not burn easily and it would take a large fire with enough heat for the bark to burn. And when this happens, nature's process of healing itself takes place when a new bark grows over the burned wood.

A tree that has lived 2,000 years may have survived more than 100 fires because of their thick protective bark.

Then, in the southern Sierra Nevada east of Visalia, California is the Sequoia National Park which spans more than 1,600 sq km. This park (60 times the size of Calaveras) is famous for having five out of the ten largest trees in the world including the General Sherman tree which by volume, is the largest known living single stem tree on earth.

I couldn't help but relate a woman's reproductive health system to that of these magnificent tress, specifically breast cancer. These trees have a natural immune system that has allowed themselves to survive so many years with self-repair and self-healing mechanisms. Only by securing a safe and uncontaminated natural environment can these trees be prevented from acquiring illnesses and disease. And so too with women's health and reproductive system. 

In the 1850's, the largest tree in the North Grove was felled by ambitious speculators. Had it been allowed to grow, it may have rivaled the largest of the giant sequoias. Such destruction of nature continues to this very day in the Philippines where breast cancer is a public health epidemic.

Every woman who dies from breast cancer is said to have been robbed of 20 years of her life. This fallen tree symbolized for me the numerous unnecessary mastectomies done on women - chopping off breasts prior to chemotherapy and radiation. The incidence of overdiagnosis and overtreatment has even been institutionalized by health insurance which does not support natural approaches in breast cancer treatment.

Only when government and society realize and address the real causes of the rising incidence of breast cancer - the ignored environmental and occupational risk factors of the disease, can Joyce Kilmer's famous poem then be likened to a woman. 

Freedom from Breast Cancer!