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Philippines: Doctors launch training on breast cancer prevention for village health workers

Around 70 Barangay Health Workers participated in the launch of the Bust Out Cancer Training for BHWs convened and facilitated by the Mindoro Breast Cancer Support Group last March 22 at Calapan Convention Center (Photo: Mariel Andrea V. Gardiola)

Volunteer doctors launched a campaign for prevention and early screening of breast cancer for village health workers at the Calapan Convention Center in Mindoro City, Philippines, as they themselves moderated and participated in the 25th Post-Graduate Course.

These doctors convened the charitable Mindoro Breast Cancer Support Group on October 28, 2023, in Calapan City in response to the rising number of cases of breast cancer among women (including medical doctors) in Mindoro. 

In the MIMAROPA (Mindoro Oriental and Occidental, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan) region, the Philippine Statistics Authority recorded deaths due to malignant neoplasm of the breast at 190 in 2020 and 225 in 2021. Fifty-four and 70 are from Oriental Mindoro, respectively. On a global scale, the Philippines also had the highest prevalence of breast cancer among 197 countries in 2017, according to the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society.

“Oftentimes, people in the community would rather seek the help of community health workers and traditional healers over medical doctors,” says Michael Dennis dela Paz, general surgeon. He cited worries about having to pay exorbitant fees for medical services as one of the top reasons for such a phenomenon, as well as the lack of awareness regarding preventive and curative services for cancer. 

“People often consider a cancer diagnosis as a death sentence, however, doctors only give estimates based on trends with previous cases. With early detection, proper intervention, and with the concerted effort of the patient, their family, and a multi-disciplinary support group, we can increase a patient’s chance for survival” Dr. dela Paz adds.

This is why their group focuses on educational campaigns for prevention and early screening, which he mentioned has been making a dent since he noticed that more and more patients are now going for tests with benign or at least stage 1 to 2 cancer test results, decreasing the chances of deaths among cancer patients.

In support of the National #BustOutCancer campaign of the Department of Health, and the Philippine Commission on Women’s National Women’s Month celebration, the Mindoro Breast Cancer Support Group (MBCSG) launched their training for Barangay Health Workers (BHW) on Breast Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.

All 62 villages were represented in the training, which tackled the following topics: Consultation, Early Detection, and Operative Procedures for breast cancer by General Surgeon Dr. Mervin I. Tan; Preventive and Curative Care for Cancer patients by Medical Oncologist Dr. Abigail Aylette G. Barrientos; and Primer on Breast Cancer in Oriental Mindoro, and the Role of Barangay Health Workers in Mitigating Cancer by General Surgeon Dr. dela Paz.


Dr. Tan also caught the attention of the BHWs with photos of how breast cancer can worsen if not screened on time and without proper intervention. “I had one case where the patient thought the lump on her breast was only a mosquito bite, scratched it, and it worsened until she eventually died,” he said.

Participants posed questions such as: Does the biopsy of cysts lead to the spread of cancer? Can we use fabric bleach as an alternative cleaning solution for external cancer wounds?

Dr. Barrientos, a medical oncologist, gave the participants a holistic view of what cancer patients face in their healing journey and the types of support they need, such as psycho-social and mental health interventions. 

She even cited an example wherein she would encourage her cancer patients to “do the things they love and to put on make-up if they feel like doing it, as part of addressing this aspect of the person’s health.”

The training ended with takeaways from the BHWs, as most of them committed to sharing what they had learned and doing the manual self-breast exam.  

BHWs like Shirley Ces Atienza took the campaign to social media. The group also represented their affiliations with the Oriental Mindoro Medical Society, the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, the Mindoro Breast Cancer Support Group, the Philippine College of Surgeons (PCS), the Philippine Society of General Surgeons Southern Tagalog Chapter, the Association of Women's Surgeons in the Philippines and the PCS Cancer Commission.

With the BHWs now on board with the campaign, doctors hope there will be a "multiplier effect." As Dela Paz emphasized, “Breast cancer can be a traitor, thus the need to be vigilant and to work together.”

The local Calapan Cable, an all-male team, covered the event. Engineer Sean Lenihan, director, said they will replay the event to help reach out to more women and men alike who are not spared by breast cancer. - Madonna T. Virola


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