Breast Cancer — a wake up call for Indian women

A woman undergoing external radio therapy for Breast Cancer at the MNJ Institute in Hyderabad. File photo: K. Ramesh Babu

THE HINDU A woman undergoing external radio therapy for Breast Cancer at the MNJ Institute in Hyderabad. File photo: K. Ramesh Babu

Breast cancer, a dreaded disease has got deadlier for the modern woman who with her late marriage, unhealthy eating and growing weight is becoming vulnerable to the illness. Experts project breast cancer to strike approximately 2.5 lakh women in India by 2015.

“Breast cancer has overtaken cervical cancer to become the leading cause of cancer-related mortality among women living in metropolitan cities,” says the Indian Council of Medical Research which places incidence of the disease at 30 to 33 per 1,00,000 women in urban India.

Smart government-sponsored advertising that spreads awareness about self screening as well as timely checkups, which include mammographies and diet control, prove good safety mechanisms for early detection crucial to curb the spread of the curable disease, advice doctors.

“We have seen a considerable change in the level of awareness among women in semi urban and urban areas. Initially they were shy but when we told them about the gravity of the disease and the ease with which they can do a self exam, we found women losing their reticence,” says Isha Bhandari, ROKO Cancer, a voluntary organisation that runs mobile cancer units across India.

The number of breast cancer cases in India is about 100,000 women each year and there will be approximately 2,50,000 new cases of breast cancer in India by 2015, says ICMR.

The Roko cancer mobile units — air conditioned buses— ply in remote areas providing pre-cancer screening facilities, play relevant audio visuals and carry educational kits to be distributed in various camps.

“We started the campaign almost four years ago and aim to make mammography tests a routine for every woman in this country. We are also working for a polio like campaign to reach the masses,” says Ms. Bhandari.

Cancer rates could further increase by 50 per cent to 15 million new cases in the year 2020, according to the World Cancer Report, the most comprehensive global examination of the disease to date.

The report also reveals the developing world is expected to account for more than half of all cancer cases in the world by 2020. The WHO is also warning that Asia’s annual death toll from cancer, currently at about 4 million, could reach 6.4 million by 2030 if current trends continue.

Said to be a western disease, the incidence of new cases in Asia is rising by around 60 per cent in some parts.

“The rise is particularly affecting younger women between 30 and 40 years. Unlike in the West where typically women after 50 years get early stage disease, breast cancer in Asian women occurs at a younger age and is usually presented and diagnosed at a later stage,” Dr. Col. C. S. Pant, Vice Chairperson for the Forum for Breast Cancer Protection.

The forum, supported by Hard Rock Cafe, is organising a women’s car rally from Delhi to Agra, to raise funds and generate awareness about breast cancer prevention and its early detection.

Though there is no known cause for the illness, a cure is possible if detected early.

“I have been in this field for over 25 years and have found that breast cancer creates psychological havoc for a young woman usually in her 40s and with one or two children,” says Dr. Pant.

“The fault, to a certain extent, lies with the doctors too who do not encourage screening. Every woman after 40 should go for a mammogram test,” Ms. Bhandari.

Government advertisements also should not talk about advanced mammography techniques like digital ones and should focus on disseminating ordinary ones because these tests are expensive and the more advanced ones, with their more expensive rates, prove as a deterrent in many cases, say experts.

“A regular mammogram costs between Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000, digital ones can cost as much as Rs 8,000. “Even in the U.S. the usage of digital instrument is limited to just 32 per cent. It requires volumes to make it cost-effective,” says Dr. Pant.

“The cause for the cancer is not known but it has been statistically found that Japanese and Chinese are least prone. Perhaps it is a good idea to take a look at their food. Sipping green tea, having more vegetarian diet and plenty of exercise can be act as a deterrent,” says Dr. Pant.

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