STRANGERS spending time sometimes end up exchanging stories. If these are women, it is likely the talk will focus on family. From there, reproduction is not far behind.

Waiting for their appointments with a breast surgeon, the ladies received, initially with good humor and then with increasing interest and empathy, the questioning and storytelling by septuagenarian Anita.

Anita, 74, said she was shocked when she found out the previous year that she had a growth in her breast that turned out to be malignant.

Why me? She recalled asking in prayer. “I’m already a good girl, abstaining from food and sex,” a comment that drew titters from the younger women.

Swapping stories, the women, waiting for the same doctor to diagnose or treat various abnormalities of their breasts, found that sex and reproduction were indeed on their minds since finding a lump or feeling pain while routinely examining their breasts.

More reproductive cancers are associated with women than with men. Men are vulnerable to testicular, penile and prostate cancer.

According to the US Office of Population Affairs, women potentially face six “most common” reproductive cancers: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, vulvar, and breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, based on the statistics gathered by the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRFI).

Of the 2.26 million new cases of breast cancer worldwide in 2020, the top five countries with the highest breast cancer rates, based on age-standardized rates (ASR), were Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and France, New Caledonia.

According to the, the ASR is the “summary measure of the rate of disease” a population would have if there was a “standard age structure.” Standardization is necessary since age has a “powerful influence on the risk of dying from cancer,” states the WCRFI.

The top five countries having the highest breast cancer mortality in 2020 were Barbados, Fiji, Jamaica, Bahamas and Papua New Guinea.

Management of breast cancer is better when women seek screening to detect cancer before symptoms are felt or manifested. When detected early, there is a better chance the person can seek treatment and be cured.

Yet, as the WCRFI data on cancer rates imply, women in developing countries fare less successfully in their fight against breast cancer compared to their sisters in developed countries.

Health information and education are crucial prerequisites because without these a person, especially with limited resources, will not seek access to medical services. Women who are solo parents or dependent on their partners for finances defer seeing a doctor or even visiting the barangay health center to postpone treatment until the pain becomes unbearable and the cancer has advanced.

Given current social realities, the Philippine health system should maximize the community network created by barangay health workers (BHWs) to spread health information, particularly about reproductive cancers, to forewarn and forearm Filipinos who do not regard annual health check-ups as priorities.

A self-exam of the breasts helps women and men monitor any change of the breasts in appearance or sensation. A doctor or health professional can also show how to properly examine one’s breast during clinical breast exams.

The older a woman gets, the risk for breast cancer increases. Women aged 50-69 years lower the chance of dying from breast cancer when they opt for screening mammograms, pointed out the WCRFI.

It also cites “strong evidence” that many factors, which women can control, significantly affect the risk of breast cancer. Lactation or breastfeeding and regular physical activity minimize while obesity and alcohol consumption raise the risk of breast cancer.

Instead of feeling vulnerable because reproduction is viewed as women’s lot, women must empower themselves to take charge of their health through education and proactiveness.