During my training in America, doctors there used to ask me “Why doesn’t India have a Breast Cancer Screening Program?”
Well today, I can proudly say that we are working towards it. You always have to take small steps to fulfill big dreams and that is what we did yesterday by launching the W Pratiksha Hospital Cancer Awareness Drive.
I was happy to see the media supporting the project and giving it the importance it deserves.
We are going to having regular camps in the surrounding villages for the next six months and anyone who would like to volunteer is most welcome.
It was heartening to see one of my treated patients (a breast cancer conqueror) being felicitated during the event. She shared her thoughts with the media as well and told them about the importance of early detection and management.
The last two decades has seen a dramatic shift in the smoking rates amongst Indian men & women. Smoking rates have fallen among Indian men but they have risen among women.
In a recent study published earlier this year in the British Medical Journal and which was earlier carried by the The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), they examined the prevalence of smoking in 187 countries between 1980 and 2012 and found that while cigarette smoking among Indian men has fallen from 33.8 per cent in 1980 to 23 per cent in 2012, it has risen from three per cent to 3.2 per cent among Indian women within the same time frame.
Smoking has been associated with various cancers but there was some discrepancy regarding it’s association with breast cancer. But in a recent study, researchers at the American Cancer Society have found an increased breast cancer risk among women who smoke, especially those who start before they have their first child.
In a new study, published online February 28, 2013 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers analyzed data from 73,388 women in the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II). During more than 13 years of follow-up, researchers counted 3,721 cases of invasive breast cancer. The rate of new cases was 24% higher in smokers than in nonsmokers and 13% higher in former smokers than in nonsmokers.
The risk of invasive breast cancer was highest in women who began smoking at an earlier age. When compared to women who never smoked, those who started smoking before their first menstrual cycle had a 61% higher risk of breast cancer.
These studies highlight two important points:
1. A clear association between smoking and breast cancer
2. Increasing incidence of smoking among Indian women.
This increasing incidence could certainly be one of the contributing factors leading to a high incidence of breast cancer among urban Indian women. Another factor which has to be considered is ‘passive smoking’ which has not be studied in any trials.
During this Breast Cancer Awareness month, in addition to spreading awareness about breast cancer, we should also educate Indian women regarding the ill effects of smoking and it’s association with Breast cancer.
Myth 1: We don’t need to talk about cancer
Truth: Whilst cancer can be a difficult topic to address, particularly in some cultures and settings, dealing with the disease openly can improve outcomes at an individual, community and policy level.
Myth 2: There are no signs or symptoms of cancer
Truth: For many cancers, there are warning signs and symptoms and the benefits of early detection are indisputable.
Myth 3: There is nothing I can do about cancer
Truth: There is a lot that can be done at an individual, community and policy level and with the right strategies; a third of the most common cancers can be prevented.
Myth 4: I don’t have the right to cancer care
Truth: All people have the right to access proven and effective cancer treatments and services on equal terms, and without suffering hardship as a consequence.
Being a cancer surgeon it really hurts me when I see patients suffering from cancer but it hurts me even more, when the people around them desert them during their time of need. Instead of only fighting the cancer growing within them, they also end up fighting the “social cancer”.
Consider these scenarios:
- Being a breast surgeon, I have seen many breast cancer patients having marital problems after being diagnosed with cancer. Their husbands leave them because of financial reasons and due to their physical appearance after cancer treatment.
- One patient was made a social outcast in her own home and was not allowed to sleep and eat with her children and other family members because they thought that cancer was a communicable disease.
- I know of a distant relative, who was diagnosed with leukemia when he was very young. He was completely cured with chemotherapy but then had a tough time finding a suitable match. Every time he revealed his story to the girl’s family, they rejected him immediately. One family even got all his reports verified from multiple experts, who were of the opinion that the cancer was treated, but still the family rejected him. Although he was able to win the battle against cancer but could not fight the social cancer and landed up with depression.
These problems arise because of the lack of awareness about cancer in our country. With the incidence of communicable diseases reducing in our country, cancer is going to become the next epidemic. If the same social stigma continues to haunt these patients, their lives would become miserable.
Some months back I saw a matrimonial column specifically for patients with AIDS (for which no cure is present). If the society can accept AIDS, then why not have a separate matrimonial column for cancer survivors, a disease which is curable, if diagnosed early.
A cancer patient does not need sympathy but needs support, not only from the immediate family members but also the society. Let us help create awareness about cancer and also educate relatives of cancer survivors about their disease and their needs.
Cancer awareness is the only chemotherapy against this social stigma.