KARACHI: Experts at a seminar held on Tuesday to create awareness about the dangers of breast cancer warned that the number of deaths caused by the deadly disease was on the rise in Pakistan, with 83,000 such cases reported and around 40,000 women dying of it every year.

They said breast cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cancerous cause of death.

“In Pakistan, one in nine women will develop breast cancer at some stage of their life,” said Dr Iqbal Afridi, head of the department of psychiatry and behavioural science at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. He shared this information at a seminar organised by the Pink Ribbon, Medionix, Sindh Maternal, Sindh Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) programme and Jinnah Sindh Medical University (JSMU). It was held at the JSMU auditorium.

Pakistan, like the rest of the world, observes October as the breast cancer awareness month.

Dr Afridi said one million women worldwide were diagnosed with breast cancer every year. In Pakistan, he added, “we do not have such a case registry at a national level.”

Dr Afridi said several studies and reports suggested that among the Asian population, Pakistani women had the highest risk of breast cancer (after non-Arab Israeli women).

Sughra Parveen, a professor of surgery, reiterated that Pakistan’s breast cancer rate was the highest in Asia, “which claims 40,000 lives annually”.

The audience was informed that in breast cancer some cells begin to grow abnormally; they divide more rapidly than healthy cells and metastasise (spread) to other parts of the body.

Speaking about the cause of the disease, experts said the exact mechanism is still unknown, but it causes damage to the cell’s DNA.

At the seminar the signs and symptoms of breast cancer were discussed to raise awareness. Experts said that any change in how the breast or nipple felt, tenderness, rooted lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area were some of the symptoms to look out for. Also, a change would be visible in the skin texture or an enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast, or even discharge from the nipple — particularly clear or bloody discharge.

Dr Parveen said the disease manifested itself with a change in appearance — unexplained changes in the size or shape of the breast with dimpling. Besides, other symptoms included “unexplained swelling of the breast (especially if only on one side); unexplained shrinkage of the breast (especially if only on one side); nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted and skin of the breast, areola, or nipple that becomes scaly, red, or swollen.”

Experts said the increase in the cases of breast cancer was also because most patients delayed getting help. They consider it against society’s norms to inform others about the disease, or delay seeking help due to psychological barriers. Most of such cases, experts believe, can prove fatal.

According to Pink Ribbon, having breast cancer in Pakistan, no matter what stage or severity it was of, carried with it a stigma. Furthermore, due to lack of awareness many women denied their condition and refused to go for any kind of breast examination.

Senator Dr Karim Khwaja in his keynote speech said awareness about breast cancer should be effectively created across the country and that he would also present proposals in the senate to carry forward the task.

Prof Afridi said many people were influenced by certain misconceptions about breast cancer, which deteriorated the patient’s condition and entrapped her with additional psychological disorders.

He said the disease was not just being witnessed among elderly women, but it was increasingly affecting younger women despite the fact that 80 per cent of the patients’ families had no history of breast cancer.

Surgeon Rufina Soomro said the risk for breast cancer increased with age as approximately 77pc of women with breast cancer were over the age of 50 at the time of diagnosis.

According to the data compiled by Pink Ribbon, Pakistan has the highest rate of breast cancer in Asia.

JSMU vice chancellor, Prof Tariq Rafi, director, MNCH, Dr Sahibjan Badar, Prof Naila Zaheer and Dr Mohammad Ali Memon also spoke at the seminar.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2015

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