As breast cancer spreads in India, awareness is key (Feature)

September 1st, 2010 - 11:53 am ICT by IANS  

By Rahul Vaishnavi
New Delhi, Sep 1 (IANS) While bathing one morning, Sunaina Luthra felt a slight lump in her left breast. Thinking it was an allergic reaction caused by a new brand of deodorant used the day before, she ignored it.

Only when she noticed that her lump was increasing did she tell her husband. The following day they consulted an oncologist and got a shock. Sunaina was diagnosed with breast cancer. The 38-year-old woman was one of an estimated 90,000 plus cases in India in 2010.

According to the Indian health ministry, breast cancer is set to pip cervical cancer as the most reported cancer among women in India by 2020. But experts say awareness is key to fighting the disease.

There are a couple of factors which collectively or individually lead to the disease, said Siddharth Sahani, consultant surgical oncology (Breast Cancer) at Artemis Health Institute (AMI), Gurgaon.

“The Westernisation of our culture, high stress at a young age, excess consumption of alcohol, rise in pollution levels, obesity, among others are the main reason behind the disease,” Sahani told IANS.

Women today have mastered the art of balancing home and work. But in turn this has increased stress levels like never before.

“The woman of today is very dedicated to her profession as well as home. So she doesn’t have time for any physical exercise which leads to obesity,” said Sahani.

Moreover, India has a younger population as compared to rest of the world; hence the increase in numbers, he said.

According to the National Cancer Registry Programme report on time trends in cancer incidence rates (1982-2005) of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the estimated number of breast cancer cases in India in 2010 is 90,659 and of cervical cancer is 103,821.

Experts say early detection is the best way to prevent the disease from spreading and improve the odds of survival. If detected in time, the cure rate is an astonishing 97 percent.

“Women should perform a monthly breast self-examination which is a great way to be familiar with your breasts’ texture, size, and skin condition,” said Praveen Kumar Bansal, senior consultant, medical oncology, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS).

“The problem is almost 70 percent of cases are detected in stage three of the disease. Till then a lot of time had been wasted and the cure rate obviously goes down,” said Sahani.

Women should not hesitate to see the doctor or nurse for a clinical breast examination if they notice a change in their breasts, Bansal said.

Experts agree that more awareness is needed among women, especially among those in the 30-50 age group. Some basic precautions like marrying at the right age - between 20 and 26, breast feeding babies, abstaining from alcohol and smoking - can further prevent the disease.

But at the same time, doctors are bewildered by the “unjustified” increase in the number of patients in a country where the majority of population adheres to these practices.

“The majority of women in our country marry at the right age, breast feed and don’t consume liquor or smoke. Still, the numbers are rising which is very surprising,” said Sahani.

According to Bansal, those who have a past history of the disease should go for mammography after they attain the age of 25 while others should get tested regularly once they turn 35.

Mammography is a test which examines the human breast and is used as a diagnostic and screening tool. The goal of mammography is early detection of breast cancer. The tests used for screening, diagnosis and monitoring, include mammograms, ultrasound, MRI, CAT scans, PET scans and more.

As they say, better to be safe than sorry.

(Rahul Vaishnavi can be contacted at rahul.v@ians.in)

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