Debunking the myths
On World Cancer Day, Dr. Myrna Doumit, assistant dean at LAU’s School of Nursing, reminds us of the importance of raising awareness of cancer and encouraging its prevention and detection.
Cancer remains a leading cause of death around the world. Every year, World Cancer Day (WCD) is observed on February 4. Its aim is simple: to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment.
“Everyday is cancer day, but why not dedicate one specific day on the calendar to remind people of that. There is never enough awareness,” says Dr. Myrna Doumit, assistant dean at LAU’s Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing, who is also on the National Committee for Breast Cancer Awareness.
Under the tagline “Debunk the Myths”, WCD 2014 builds on the success of last year’s campaign by again focusing on reducing stigma and dispelling myths about cancer. This is easier than it sounds: essentially the campaign will present the public with basic facts that will counter erroneous beliefs about the disease.
One of these misconceptions is that there is no need to talk about cancer. In fact, while it can be a difficult topic to address, dealing with the disease openly can improve outcomes at an individual, community and policy level. Another myth needing to be dispelled is that cancer presents no signs or symptoms. For many cancers, there are indeed warning signs and symptoms, and the benefits of early detection are indisputable. In addition, there is the recurrent idea that nothing can be done about cancer. Actually, there is a lot that can be done and, with the right strategies, a third of the most common cancers can be prevented.
“Reinforcing awareness of the strong links between lifestyle choices and cancer is key to fighting this disease,” Doumit says. In the Middle East, too many people, especially teenagers, still smoke. Eating habits are worsening, leading to an ever-growing epidemic of obesity—a condition clearly associated with increased risk of many cancers. And although known to increase the risk of all skin cancers, too many parents still expose their children to sun radiation.
In Lebanon, breast cancer is the most widespread type of cancer among women, especially those between the ages of 35 and 55. Doumit insists on instilling the habit of self-examination for early detection at a young age.
Studies have now proven that breast self-examination helps women know their bodies and thus their breasts. “If encouraged the moment young girls have their period this becomes a simple monthly routine, that can actually save their lives,” the expert explains.
For the past 12 years, Lebanon’s Ministry of Health has, with the help of medical societies and grass roots organizations, conducted yearly awareness campaigns, running, unusually, for a full three months. .
“Our awareness campaigns have paid off; however we still find women —from all backgrounds— who notice changes in their breasts but are afraid to talk about it,” explains Doumit. “And every year, in some areas, we find that women neither self-examine their breasts nor have mammograms, even though they are offered for free or half-price. So, after 11 years, I asked myself, why not do a study and find out what the problem is?”
Doumit recently worked on a proposal for a national study to understand why this lack of awareness exists and how it can be remedied. Such a study, for which she is currently seeking funding, would be conducted nationally to assess the knowledge, practices and attitudes of Lebanese women toward breast self-examination and breast cancer detection in general. The importance of such a study cannot be overstated, given the number of women it would help.
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