Need multi-pronged approach to fight breast cancer

PUNE: Late detection and lack of access to standardised medical care are the main factors behind high mortality rate among patients with breast cancer.

Breast cancer makes up 14% of all newly diagnosed cancers and is currently the most common cancer diagnosed in India. According to online datatbase Globocan, 1.62 lakh women were newly diagnosed with breast cancer in India in 2018. The same year, around 87,000 deaths were reported due to this disease which means that more than half of those diagnosed with breast cancer died the same year making the mortality rate of breast cancer 50%.

“In countries like the US, the mortality due to breast cancer is 20% which highlights the fact that both late diagnosis – women coming in at advanced stages of the disease and lack of access to good and standardised care are the main issues in India which need immediate attention,” said medical oncologist Shona Nag, director of oncology department at Sahyadri hospitals.

Elaborating, Nag said, “Last year, Pune had around 8,000-9,000 new cancer cases out of which 1,300-1,400 were diagnosed with breast cancer. Around 2-3 decades ago the incidence of breast cancer in India was low – about 15 per one lakh population. In metropolitan cities, it is now 35 per lakh population. The reason for this rise is our westernised lifestyle and increasing obesity in the population.”

She further said that simple things like self-breast examination and clinical breast examination (physical exam by a qualified specialist) are cost effective methods to diagnose breast cancer earlier. “Mammography is not accessible to everyone. It is available in most major cities in India and women living in urban areas should be encouraged to do mammographic screening after 45-50 years of age. It brings down the mortality of breast cancer by 30% by diagnosing breast cancer in stages 0 and 1,” she added.

Talking about the hereditary factor in breast cancer, Nag said, “Between 5% and 10% of all breast cancers are caused by faulty genes which can be passed on from one generation to the next. A simple blood test or cheek swab can be done to find out whether the patient carries the gene or not. Due to an explosion in technology genetic testing for breast cancer is affordable. Today we also have special drugs against this type of breast cancer due to genetic mutations. Hence all women with breast cancer should have access to a genetic clinic.”

Nag Foundation in association with Sahyadri Hospitals will hold a breast cancer survivors conference at Yashada auditorium Baner Road, which is free by prior registration.


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