A third of women who develop breast cancer lose their jobs as a result of their illness, and this exacerbates the problems that arise when a breast tumor is diagnosed. About 1,100 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Malaga province this year. Nearly 90 per cent will overcome it, thanks to advances in research and in treatments, which are progressing faster than the improvement in the quality of life of these patients.
To coincide with World Breast Cancer Day on 19 October, the Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer (AECC) pointed out that this type of tumor makes women who suffer from it more vulnerable. In a study into 'Financial toxicity in breast cancer' the association warned that nearly 34 per cent of patients had lost their job or had been forced to give it up because of their illness, 70 per cent have ended up with no salary and practically no income and around 36 per cent are unable to work for 11 months.
The study shows that on average, with direct expenses and lack of income, there is a loss of 41,834 euros during the illness. Therefore, a patient with a breast tumor faces direct costs of 9,242 euros and a loss of income of 32,578 euros. The AECC is calling for inequality that exists around cancer, and specificially breast cancer, to be corrected. Last year in Spain, 33,875 new cases were diagnosed and 15 per cent of the patients are "in an extremely vulnerable financial and work situation," it says.
Once an increase in a patient's survival has been achieved, there are a series of consequences of a tumor which need to be improved. These include the health service reducing the delays which patients face in receiving lymphatic massage when they suffer from lymphoedema (an accumulation of fluid in the adipose tissues just below the skin. This accumulation could also be considered an obstruction which causes inflammation and discomfort). Lymphoedema occurs more frequently after surgery to remove the tumor or damage to lymph glands as a result of the cancer treatment.
The president of the ASAMMA association for women in Malaga who have had breast cancer surgery, Francisca Aguilar, said this week that the Andalusian Health Service has to respond more quickly with physiotherapy for women with lymphoedema. Because of the existing delays, Asamma has a physiotherapist who gives lymphatic massage to people who need it.
Another issue that needs to be dealt with is the micropigmentation of the areolas of patients who have had a mastectomy. The Materno hospital set up a unit for this service, but it closed when the pandemic began, says Francisca.
On the positive side, she also points out that there are no longer delays of three or four years as there used to be for breast reconstruction following surgery. Now, a decree from the Junta de Andalucía guarantees that this procedure will be carried out within six months maximum. Also, with some patients, the reconstruction is carried out on the same day as the breast with the tumor is removed. In addition, the system which enables young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer to preserve their ovules before starting treatment is working well. This means that once they have overcome the illness, they can become pregnant.
The head of medical oncology at the Regional and Clínico hospitals in Malaga, Emilio Alba, who is also a professor of oncology at the university, says improvements are needed in the procedures to improve patients' quality of life. "We need to humanise the care once we have made major progress in treatments and cures," he says, pointing out that nearly 90 per cent of patients treated for breast cancer in Malaga survive the illness. "What concerns us is that between March 2020 and March 2021 there were 25 per cent fewer diagnoses than in the same period the previous year. This suggests that one in every four patients has not been diagnosed because of the pandemic," he says.
Also to mark World Breast Cancer Day, the General Manager of the Benalmádena cable car , Alberto Martín, presented a cheque for 3,000 euros to the AECC, and this money will be used for research and the association's services.