Presidential Palace turns pink as first lady urges breast cancer awareness

BEIRUT: First Lady Wafaa Sleiman launched a national breast cancer awareness campaign Monday in conjunction with the Health Ministry to encourage early detection and support women diagnosed with the disease.

The Presidential Palace was illuminated by pink floodlights to mark the occasion as Sleiman and Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil announced the start of the three-month campaign entitled, “Early detection saves your life.”

The First Lady praised during a news conference held in Baabda the “persistent efforts to raise women’s awareness in Lebanon about the importance of dealing with this sickness.”

She implored women to continue to “take this cancer awareness campaign seriously,” adding that generations to come depend on the health of women and mothers today.

October is internationally recognized as breast cancer awareness month, an annual health campaign to raise awareness about the disease, encourage early testing and raise funds for research into a cure.

This year’s efforts will include a campaign to raise awareness about early detection, promote clinical screenings and self-examinations and offer discounted mammograms until the end of December. For the three-month period, public hospitals will offer free mammograms and private hospitals will offer the screening at a discounted cost of 40,000LL.

The Health Ministry has also launched a temporary hotline for the duration of the campaign to answer questions about breast cancer. By dialing 1214, callers can receive health guidance and information on mammograms or other testing.

“We look forward to the opportunities provided by this campaign through awareness, guidance, easy access to service and its low price,” Khalil said in remarks at the campaign launch. “We are capable of working hand in hand to conquer this disease.”

Khalil added that the ministry will also increase support to those already suffering from the disease by offering medication to women diagnosed with breast cancer even if they are not enrolled in the National Social Security Fund.

“For this purpose, [the Health Ministry] has undergone an overhaul by forming specialized committees and medication protocols, so as to facilitate means of getting medicine from distribution centers,” Khalil added.

The ministry will also organize awareness lectures in cooperation with municipalities and NGOs working with women throughout the three months. During these lectures breast cancer survivors will share their experiences and highlight the importance of early detection.

If caught at an early stage, breast cancer is one of the most curable forms of the disease. Lebanon follows guidelines published by the American Cancer Society which recommend that women begin yearly mammogram screenings and clinical examinations at the age of 40.

Women in their 20s and 30s should undergo clinical breast examinations every three years and begin breast self-exams (BSE) starting in their 20s to note any changes in the look or feel of their breasts.

According to Khalil, 15,000 women in Lebanon received mammograms and clinical breast exams last year. He credited the last decade of awareness efforts with increasing early detection.

In 2001, only 15 percent of Lebanese women over the age of 35 were going for breast screenings. By 2010, that number increased to 38 percent.

Nonetheless, breast cancer remains the most common form of cancer affecting women in Lebanon, making up 41 percent of all cases.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 16, 2012, on page 2.




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