SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF BREAST CANCER IN AUSTRALIA
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops from breast cells. It can start in the milk ducts or the lobules that transport milk to them. If a tumor is malignant, it can spread to the rest of the human body. Therefore, it is necessary to observe the symptoms of the disease and tell about them to a doctor or a nurse. Thus, the first symptoms of breast cancer are thickened tissue or a lump in the breast. In addition, patients may feel a pain in the armpits or breast and the skin of their breast may become red like an orange. Besides, nipples may change their appearance (e.g. nipple-skin can start to peel or a rush can appear). However, despite quite long list of signs, patients cannot themselves put the diagnosis. They must visit a doctor who has the necessary equipment for detecting breast cancer (Nordqvist 2006).
However, breast cancer is not only a personal problem of people who have it. It is also considered as a social issue. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to conduct a sociological analysis of breast cancer on the base of the big society such as Australia. First of all, it is important to indicate that the following disease has a permanent character there. Moreover, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Cancer Australia (2012), it is the most common cancer among female. Thus, investigations demonstrate that 14,940 Australians will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. In addition, one in eight Australian female inhabitants will get the same diagnosis until they are 85. To make matters worse, scientists predict that the amount of people with breast cancer will continue to increase over time. In particular, it is estimated that 17,210 women will be diagnosed with this disease in 2020 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Cancer Australia 2012).
On the other hand, tendencies of spreading breast cancer within Australia are not the same for different group of the population. To begin with, the woman’s risk of the disease increases with age. Thus, the most of women get the following diagnosis between the ages of 50 and 69. Moreover, according to statistics, the most dangerous age is 60. Besides, the person’s background influences the risk of breast cancer because it is estimated that 5-10% of the disease happens due to a genetic mutation or a family history. In addition, statistics for 2004-2008 demonstrates that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) women have breast cancer less frequently than non-ATSI women. The same tendency is found among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) groups that also get the breast cancer less than people born in Australia. Finally, there are several patterns within the gender. Thus, breast cancer that is traditionally considered female disease becomes more frequent among men. In particular, a number of male patients diagnosed with breast cancer grew from 61 in 1982 to 113 in 2008 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Cancer Australia 2012). Therefore, the objective sociological analysis of breast cancer in Australia can be done only by applying “sociological imagination” framework that focuses on historical, cultural, structural, and critical dimensions (Germov 2012).
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To start with, the attitude to people with breast cancer and treatment of the disease have changed over time. Thus, the disease was first noticed by ancient Egyptians. It happened more than 3500 years ago. They described it as bulging tumors without any possibilities for their curing. Later in 460 B.C. Hippocrates concluded that breast cancer was a humoral disorder, the cause of which was excessive amount of black bile. Thereafter, his colleague, Galen, suggested that the danger of tumors had a different level. In particular, some tumors were much more harmful than others. Moreover, he also offered treatment like taking opium, salves, castor oil, etc. On the other hand, doctors of that period believed that cancer affected all parts of the human body, so surgery was not used. The following theory was considered valued until the seventeenth century. The first who rejected it was Francois de la Boe Sylvius. He was French physician who suggested that cancer “came from a chemical process that transformed lymphatic fluids from acidic to acrid” (Mandal n.d.). His theory appeared in 1680 and 50 years later, Claude-Deshais Gendron, another French physician, also refuted the Galen’s theory and suggested “cancer developed when nerve and glandular tissue mixed with lymph vessels” (Mandal n.d.). Other researchers of the seventeenth century such as Bernardino Ramazzini and Friedrich Hoffman of Prussia suggested that breast cancer is influenced by quality and quantity of sex. For instance, Romazzini believed that lack of regular sexual activity leads to cancer. As for Hoffman, he concluded that practicing excessive sexual activity could cause lymphatic blockage. However, there were also other ideas about the causes of breast cancer. In particular, some researchers supposed that mental disorders, sedentary lifestyle, and curdled milk may cause this disease. As for treatment, in 1757, Henri Le Dran suggested surgical treatment of the tumor. This method is still used. However, this option became more possible by mid-19th century due to appearance of blood transfusion, anesthesia, and antiseptic. Later, William Halstead invented radical mastectomy. It helped women to survive longer. On the other hand, it made women disfigured and caused other additional problems such as pain, arm swelling, etc. However, later in 1955 and then in 1976 George Crile suggested that breast cancer could metastasize. Therefore, he offered to do breast-conserving surgery and after that conducting chemotherapy or radiation. Nowadays, less than 10 percent of women have a mastectomy. It became possible due to developing novel therapies like hormone treatments, biological therapies, and surgeries. Moreover, scientists managed to detect the genes that trigger the development of breast cancer. They are ATM, BRCA 1, and BRCA 2. In addition, inventing of mammography made it possible to start treatment earlier (Mandal n.d.).
Therefore, the history of breast cancer is long and difficult. It started from considering the disease as the incurable one. Later, researchers developed painful surgeries. Finally, today women cannot only survive the disease but also have full life. However, success of treatment also depends on the economic development of a country because curing of breast cancer requires much money, qualified staff, modern equipment, and medicine. As for Australia, its inhabitants can afford such treatment. As a result, the country has the one of the highest survival rates in the world. According to statistics, the five-year survival rate reaches 89 percent across all stages. If the disease detected at an early stage, the survival rate is 98 percent (Swan 2013)
Another dimension of breast cancer in Australia is cultural
This factor is extremely important to the country due to one of the most culturally diverse population in the world. In particular, Australia is inhabited by people from over 200 countries. In addition, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make the country even more culturally variable. According to Australian census (2011), 25 percent of Australian people were born overseas and 43 percent has at least one parent born abroad. The most migration comes from Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world. 2 percent of these people do not speak English at all. Such diversity clearly influences the character of cancer incidence in Australia. For example, many culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities pay less attention to preventing and screening programs than others. As a result, they are diagnosed at a later stage and have worse outcomes. Such low participation can be explained by the fact that many cultures believe that cancer is a death sentence, so it is useless to fight against it. Besides, people of some cultures believe in reincarnation, thus cancer for them is a karmic retribution for mistakes in a past life. However, people from CALD communities more often complain about miscommunication with health specialists, isolation, and the absence of information in their native language (Croager 2012)
Therefore, breast cancer is influenced by different specific factors such as language, cultural and religious beliefs, the process of settlement after coming to the country, literacy that leads to appearing of obstacles to equitable access to preventing and screening programs, and treatment. As a result, some CALD communities experience more difficulties than others with breast cancer.
However, a sociological analysis would be not full without a structural dimension. It incorporates analyzing institutions and organizations that influence the current situation (Germov 2012). As for Australian society, there are four major breast cancer organizations in the country. All they have different missions and roles. This makes possible to avoid the repeating of the processes and covering all the problems in this sphere. As a result, women diagnosed with breast cancer are able to get the most qualitative treatment and care. Thus, one of the most popular organizations is Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA). It works with people affected by breast cancer and their families. They provide the most reliable information, treatment, care, and support. Another organization is the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). It is a leading community-funded organization in the country. Its main role is raising financial resources for researches that deal with prevention, detecting, and curing of breast cancer. NBCF has been working since 1994. They managed to raise $97 million for 18 years of their work. As a result, 340 Australian-based projects across Australia have got money. In addition, there is McGrath Foundation. Its mission is to provide access to breast care nurse to all families that deal with breast cancer. In particular, they opened 80 Breast Care Nurses in communities across Australia. In addition, they provide education among young people in order to increase their breast awareness. Apart from that, Australian Government established Cancer Australia. This organization tries to reduce the influence of cancer and improve the well-being of those who have this disease. It provides recommendations for Australian Government about necessary policies and priorities. It also makes clinical guidelines and information resources for health professionals and people who experience breast cancer (Breast Cancer Network Australia n.d.). Apart from these four organizations, there are also other institutions that work with this problem. However, they have smaller influence in the society.
The fourth dimension of sociological analysis is critical. Despite the progress of the country in dealing with breast cancer, the society still has opportunities for improving the current situation. Therefore, critical dimension is as important as other three factors. Firstly, the situation can be changed by increasing awareness of women about the ways of reducing risk of breast cancer recurrence. For instance, one in four women who had breast cancer does not know that changing lifestyle is able to reduce the risk smaller. However, the risk of recurrence would have reduced by 24 percent and the risk of death would have reduced by about one third in comparison with inactive Australian. Therefore, organizations should inform women that three hours of physical activity such as walking or cycling each week can help them to stay healthy (Cancer Australia 2012). Secondly, it had been already discussed that women from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) groups sometimes have miscommunication with health professionals and difficulties with getting information about the disease due to language problems. Therefore, organizations and institutions should continue to increase the breast awareness, particularly they should demonstrate the importance of preventing and detecting the disease on the early stages. Thirdly, organizations should inform people that a healthy diet is also effective for reducing the risk of breast cancer because if a person is overweight he/she has more estrogen. In addition, researchers discovered that certain products are able to decrease the risk of the disease. In particular, research published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer revealed that people that eat walnuts during the lifespan, reduce the risk of breast cancer by fifty percent (Australian Natural Health n.d.). Finally, it is necessary to continue working with communities where breast cancer is considered as a death sentence. These groups should realize that prevention and detection of the disease at the early stages can help them to survive and live a full life.
To sum up, the sociological analysis of breast cancer in Australia demonstrates that this disease has a significant impact on the Australian society. First, breast cancer has a long history. It was noticed by Ancient Egyptians a long time ago. However, the descriptions of the disease and its treatment have changed many times. For example, in the past, people believed that only radical mastectomy can save people’s lives while modern health professionals suggest hormone treatments, biological therapies, and surgeries. However, one of the most valuable achievements is inventing equipment that is able to detect the disease at the early stages. This makes possible to reduce the mortality rates. In addition, the improvements of curing methods and survival rates have changed people’s attitude to breast disease. In particular, most of the people do not consider this disease as the end of their life. However, breast cancer is still dangerous if it is detected at the last stage, so people usually try to participate in preventing and screening programs. On the other hand, the influence of breast cancer on the Australian society also depends on its cultural groups. Moreover, the population is so diverse in the country, thus attitude to the disease is sometimes completely different. For instance, some communities believe that cancer is their punishment for the mistakes in the previous life. Besides, groups of people born overseas can experience miscommunication with health professionals due to worse knowledge of English, financial problems, etc. However, despite the difficulties, Australia has one of the best survival rates in the world. Furthermore, the country has many organizations and institutions that deal with breast cancer. They have different missions and roles. Therefore, they cover different aspects of the issue. On the other hand, there are still ways of improving the current situation. For example, the organizations should continue to improve the awareness of people about breast cancer, promote the healthy diet and physical activity as a way to reduce the risk, etc. Apart from that, studying the social patterns demonstrates that particular attention should be paid to women aged between 50 and 69, who belong to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) groups.
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