New Delhi: Blame
modern lifestyle for it, but breast cancer has overtaken cervical
cancer in India in numbers. Doctors say the only way to win this
battle is through early detection.
Sitting with the case files of four women - all educated, from
well-to-do families and from metros, Dr (Mrs) Ramesh Sarin,
oncologist at the Apollo Hospital here, said women troop into her
chambers at late stages of breast cancer.
"May be it is embarrassment and they don't want to get themselves
screened or simply denial that this can't happen to me. Despite
being aware, women come in late stages. Mind you, these are
educated women, financially well-off and independent," Sarin told
"According to ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research), the
incidence of breast cancer is on the rise while cervical cancer is
beginning to come down," she added.
Sanjay Sharma, president of the Breast Cancer Foundation of India
and Surgical Oncology at the S.L. Raheja hospital, said social
taboo prevents women from talking about breast cancer. This poses
a big problem in early detection.
"ICMR studies show that incidence of breast cancer has nearly
doubled in the last 24 years. One in every 22 women is likely to
suffer from breast cancer. In India, almost 80 percent patients
are in advanced stages when they come to hospitals. Social taboos
regarding breast cancer prevent women from talking to friends and
families, let alone
doctors," he added.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has
projected that India could see around 250,000 new cases by 2015.
Considering the magnitude, October has been designated the breast
cancer awareness month.
Nitesh Rohtagi, a consultant at Max Super Speciality Hospital in
Delhi, said four out of 10 cases he sees daily pertain to breast
"The incidence is higher among Western women. But here too the
number of new cases is rising. No one factor is responsible,"
Rohtagi told IANS.
The most common symptom is a lump or mass that feels different
from the rest of the breast tissue. Other signs include discharge
from the nipples, skin dimpling or rash on or around nipples. Pain
is a non-specific symptom although it may be indicative of some
The biggest factor for breast cancer is lifestyle-related.
"Women these days marry late, have late childbirth, there is less
breast feeding. All of this increase the risk of breast cancer,"
Early puberty and late menopause are also risk factors.
"The incidence of breast cancer in the metros is higher. Girls in
metros are generally better nourished and more well developed, and
get their periods sooner. Early puberty, late menopause are risk
factors in breast cancer," Sarin said.
"Breast feeding is also very important. Nowadays women don't
breastfeed their child long enough," she added.
It could also be, some feel, that breast cancer cases are more now
simply because they are being detected.
"Today doctors in India are much more experienced in dealing with
breast cancer than 10-15 years ago. The diagnostic techniques are
readily available. Plus awareness has increased, so it is possible
that detection of breast cancer has risen, and therefore the
numbers," Rohtagi said.
Men suffer from breast cancer too, Sharma added. "Although just
one percent of such cases are detected in men, some studies show
such cases are also on the rise."
Early detection is the way out.
"Breast cancer is curable and there are good treatments available.
In the West one in eight women suffer from the disease, hence a
lot of research has been done on the subject," Sarin said.
"Often women do not like doing self-examination out of fear of
detecting cancer. The good thing is that it can be completely
cured or controlled through proper treatment. To sum up, don't
wait for a wake-up call, see a doctor," Sharma said.
(Azera Rahman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)