BREAST cancer awareness encourages women to have regular screening for its early detection. In Pakistan, women are hesitant to get themselves examined owing to cultural norms prevalent in society.
It is the most common cancer among women, and Pakistan ranks among the countries with the highest incidence in Asia. About 34 women per 100,000 suffer from this disease, while elsewhere in the region its incidence is low. According to estimates, 109 women die every 24 hours due to breast cancer in Pakistan. We have 40,000 deaths a year because of breast cancer with an addition of 90,000 new cases annually, which should be a matter of great concern.
Uneducated women from rural and far-flung areas often feel insecure talking and thinking about breast cancer screening. There has been an increase in awareness about the disease in urban centres where literacy rate is higher, and better health facilities are available.
But it seems nothing has changed for rural areas where people rely on understaffed and ill-equipped dispensaries or primary health units for their medical needs.
It is a social, moral and ethical responsibility of all the stakeholders to inform, encourage and facilitate our women in getting appropriate screening. The earlier we detect the disease, the better is the chance of its cure. Once the disease spreads, it becomes a life-threatening situation.
If treated in time, many patients can become long-term survivors. It is our duty to reach out to the public and spread awareness about breast cancer and its early prevention.
There are many factors that can influence breast cancer risk. We cannot change some factors, such as old age, or having a family history, but we can help lower the risk of the disease by taking care of our health, keeping a healthy bodyweight, being physically active, avoiding smoking and alcohol, breastfeeding children, getting daily exercise and having proper sleep.
If someone has a family history of breast cancer or inherited changes in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, it is important to tell this to the doctor to lower the risk. It is widely believed that breast cancer treatment is worse than the disease itself.
In fact, recent advances in the treatment of breast cancer have resulted in better tolerance and less severe side effects with survival rates showing great improvment.
Another common prevailing mis-conception even amongst the most educated of people is that the biopsy of a lump expedites the spread of cancer. On the contrary, biopsy helps early diagnosis of cancer, thereby promoting an early treatment.
There is a dire need for educating the masses about the risks of breast cancer, clarifying misconceptions and encouraging them to seek early medical advice. Early diagnosis coupled with timely treatment remains key to successful cure of the disease.
Dr Jauhar Abbas
Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2022