EACH October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is marked around the world, with events held to raise awareness about the disease, encouraging discussions on how to care for those suffering from the illness, along with increasing understanding on how to detect the disease in its early stages. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, approximately 1.38m cases of breast cancer are detected each year, resulting in 458,000 annual deaths. Additionally, breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer amongst women, with those from low- or middle-income brackets most likely to suffer due to late detections, and the second most prevalent form of cancer in the world. While there is no cancer registry system in place to determine just how widespread the disease is in Pakistan, Pink Ribbon estimates that there is an average of 90,000 patients diagnosed each year, while around 40,000 die from the disease. Meanwhile, the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association claims that Pakistan has the highest rate of breast cancer in Asia.
Last week, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat in the capital city and Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore were lit pink to raise awareness . Similarly, in 2017, the Shah Faisal Mosque turned pink one evening to mark ‘Pinktober’. While some have levelled criticism against the ‘corportatisation’ of breast cancer awareness, such actions are important in mainstreaming discussion about the disease in societies like ours, encouraging women to get regular checkups, as well as removing the stigma attached to the often fatal condition, which unfortunately is still prevalent in many parts of Pakistan. Women’s health is ignored, and our society still struggles to talk about breast cancer or even take its name due to warped ideas and a sense of shame surrounding anything to do with women’s bodies — a hesitancy and silence so burdensome that it results in the deaths of a large number of women. This October, Pakistanis should make an effort to talk about the disease, and reach out to those who have been diagnosed with it.
Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2019