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  • India observes 2nd Breast Cancer Action Month; doctors call for awareness and screening at grass root level

    Published on October 5, 2021

    · They anticipate a rise in locally advanced and metastatic breast cancers in the coming months.

    · Strengthening local health centres and referral linkages are important to bring women to the screening facility in hinterlands.

    · One Indian woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every 4 minutes while in every 8 minutes, one Indian woman dies of breast cancer.

    · The month-long event is being organised on the occasion of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

    New Delhi : Expressing concern on the possible rise in number of cancer patients as an aftermath of the pandemic-induced disruptions, including that of breast cancer, oncologists gathered at the inaugural session of the second edition of Breast Cancer Action Month, organised by Integrated Health & Wellbeing (IHW) Council, powered by Novartis, have called for wider screening coverage to promote faster detection, and save lives. The month-long event is being organised on the occasion of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

    “The increasingly westernised lifestyle is one of the major reasons for  growing cancer cases in India and we must gear up as these numbers are likely to rise even more. We have seen a lot of ‘incidental’ cases of cancer during the pandemic which possibly indicates a latent burden. We cannot stop cancer from coming so screening for breast cancer should be better and cover more women. We have seen how vaccination against COVID has covered a large number of people – breast cancer screening should also work in a similar manner. Besides, coverage of insurance holders must also increase to reduce the number of patients paying from their own pockets – Ayushman Bharat is doing a good job. The government must also find out ways for employment of cancer survivors and better insurance coverage for them,” said Dr Anitha Ramesh, Senior Consultant Medical and Paediatric Oncology, Apollo Speciality Hospitals and HCG Cancer Centre, Chennai.

    Echoing her thoughts, Dr Chetan Deshmukh, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital, Pune, said, “In the recent times, we have seen about 20-30 per cent of cases are in stage 1 and equal percentage having metastatic cancer, and the rest in stage 2 and stage 3. We are going to see more locally advanced and metastatic breast cancers in the coming months. One reason is, screening as a preventive health concept is nascent in India. Making women ‘breast aware’ is a key intervention needed. Besides, it is important for women to visit an expert if they feel anything is wrong instead of a mother, mother-in-law, or aunts.”

    “We screened about 200 women last week in the tribal areas but uptake of screening is very poor in these areas due to lack of treatment facility in proximity – the women avoid getting tested because they have to leave their homes and travel to cities in order to get treated, if they are diagnosed positive. Strengthening local health centres and referral linkages are important to bring them to the screening facility. Also, motivating ASHA workers can also play a big role in this, for which incentivising ASHA and ANMs can be useful. Early health awareness at grassroot level, starting from school under the Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) can help in increasing awareness,” said Dr Anushree Patil, Scientist E, National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Mumbai.

    “One Indian woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every 4 minutes while in every 8 minutes, one Indian woman dies of breast cancer. This is not only unfortunate but unnecessary as early diagnosis can push up recovery rate to up to 90%. Last year, when the pandemic was making us gasp for breath, IHW Council chose to highlight the diseases that were among biggest killers but overshadowed by COVID-19. We brought the spotlight on a disease that claimed 87,090 women in 2018 and brought together some of the top women constitutional leaders to make a stronger pitch for cancer prevention and control,” said Mr Kamal Narayan, CEO, Integrated Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council.