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LAHORE, Oct 9: Breast cancer is no longer a “death sentence” and to get this message across there must be efforts to dispel fears and infuse optimism into the lives of hundreds of women, their families and the community at large.

These views were expressed by experts during a seminar on breast cancer held at the University of Health Sciences (UHS) on Wednesday. Organised in collaboration with Pink Ribbon Campaign Pakistan, the seminar was attended by a large number of girl students from various colleges.

Addressing the seminar, Pink Ribbon Campaign CEO Omer Aftab said in Pakistan recent trends had shown breast cancer was increasing at an alarming rate among women aged from 18 to 22. He said the country had the highest rate of breast cancer in Asia and one out of nine women in Pakistan were at risk of contracting the disease in their lifetimes. He added around 40,000 women died of this disease every year.

Aftab emphasised it was the right of every woman to know about fatal diseases and society should support their cause rather than considering the issue a social taboo. He informed the audience 100,000 young women would be educated about breast cancer in October in collaboration with the Higher Education Commission.

UHS Vice-Chancellor Maj Gen Prof Muhammad Aslam retired said early detection of breast cancer was the mantra to improve treatment outcomes, longevity and quality of life.

While sharing the challenges in combating breast cancer, he said Pakistan had to overcome countless barriers such as illiteracy, misconception, social stigma and lack of medical facility. Prof Aslam announced UHS would hold an open day for women to have regular check-up, including ultrasound.

UHS director and consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon Dr Arif Rashid Khawaja said awareness about breast cancer was catching up.

“Girls should start self-examination of their breasts from the age of 18. Women are still hesitant to come in for screening. They are afraid of cancer and think they will never get it. Even educated persons think cancer means death, but it is not so,” he added. He called breast cancer a “sad disease” as it occurred at an early age and was diagnosed very late.

Dr Hamda Khawaja, consultant radiologist from Ittefaq Hospital Lahore, said ultrasound was the cheapest and most common method used for detection of breast cancer.

Dr Samina Khokhar said every girl of 18 years of age must self-examine her breasts once a month whereas women aged 18 to 40 must get themselves examined by a doctor after every three years.