Understanding Breast Cancer: Impact on Indian Women

By: Ayushi Dutta, Correspondent

Breast Cancer tops the list of cancers among Indian women with a rate of 25.8 per 100,000 women and a mortality rate of 12.7 per 100,000 women. Early detection and advances in treatment improve survival rates but awareness about the disease and self-examinations is crucial in the fight against it.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, observed every year in October is a poignant and impactful global initiative dedicated to raising awareness about Breast Cancer and its far-reaching consequences. It is a time when people, organizations, and communities come together to emphasize the importance of early detection, to support those affected by the disease, and to advocate for ongoing research and better treatments. This month serves as a powerful reminder that Breast Cancer is more than just a health issue. It is a global cause that brings hope knowledge, and solidarity to millions of people around the world.

The global movement of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was launched by the American Cancer Society in 1985 to advance public research in the fight against the disease. It is critical to bust up the common myths about this medical issue and provide individuals with accurate information.

Statistical Rates of Breast Cancer among Indian Women

Breast Cancer affects a large number of Indian women. According to a report published in 2022, Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in India, accounting for at least 14 per cent of all cancer cases in women. According to a 2018 report, there were approximately 1,62,468 new cases and 87,090 deaths due to Breast Cancer. When compared to women in Western countries, the mortality rate among Indian women is extremely high. This high mortality rate can be attributed to late detection of Breast Cancer at advanced or metastatic stages.

For Dr Manjiri Bakre, Founder and CEO of OncoStem Diagnostic, the realization hit home after losing a close friend to breast cancer. “The whole incident had a severe impact on me and made me think about how little we know about the tumors. I felt we do not “dig deeper” into the biology behind cancer. Understanding “how aggressive the cancer is, will it spread/ recur” if diagnosed at an early stage is absolutely critical to plan optimum treatment,” she says.

One in every Twenty-eight Indian women will develop Breast Cancer during their lifetime. It is more common in urban women (1 in 22) than in rural women (1 in 60). Breast Cancer is expected to cause more deaths among women in India by 2030 than any other disease.

Breast Cancer has surpassed cervical cancer as the most common type of cancer in India. Breast Cancer accounts for 25 per cent to 32 per cent of all Female Cancers in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Kolkata, Chennai, and Ahmedabad, accounting for more than a quarter of all female cancer patients. It was also found that this disease is more common in younger people. Almost half of all the cases are between the ages of 25 to 50. More than 70 per cent of the cases in the advanced stage had a low survival rate and a high mortality rate.

The Importance of Early Detection:

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, a woman is diagnosed with Breast Cancer every two minutes. However, with early detection, a woman's chances of survival increase.

Breast Cancer is a condition in which abnormal cells in the breast proliferate and form tumors. It starts inside the milk ducts and/or the lobules of the breast that produce milk. The earliest form is not fatal but if left untreated, the tumors can spread throughout the body and become life-threatening. A new lump in the underarm or breast, itching or discharge from the nipples, and changes in the skin texture of the nipple or breast are all symptoms of Breast Cancer.

Early detection through regular self-examinations and screenings can improve survival rates significantly. Government and other bodies including NGOs and large firms have brought free checkups and healthcare facilities for the concerned issue. One such initiative is led by SBI Life Insurance's 'Thanks A Dot' initiative which is embarking on another lifesaving tool that will help people to become aware of breast and develop a habit of self-breast examination. They have created a 'hot water bag' by attaching special lumps on the front side which will allow an individual to recognize the sensation of a real Breast Cancer lump during self-examination. As a result, it is critical to raise awareness about this disease and encourage regular check-ups.

Factors which hinder Early Diagnosis are:

Lack of awareness among Indian women is a root cause of the disease. Women are often hesitant to consult a male doctor and as a result of family obligations, neglect their health.

Social stigma still exists in India, participation when it comes to cancer of a woman's reproductive organs or breasts. This stigma combined with a lack of awareness frequently leads to a number of late-stage diagnoses and unnecessary deaths. The stigma associated with Breast Cancer creates a diverse impact on patient's mental health.

These factors highlight the critical need for widespread Breast Cancer awareness campaigns and early programs in India as early detection can always improve the survival rates of individuals.

Common Myths about Breast Cancer:

Breast Cancer is only found in women: The respective disease is more common in women but men can also be affected.

Breast Cancer is more common in women with larger breasts: Breast size has no relationship with cancer risk.

Breast Cancer only affects older women: While the risk of Breast Cancer rises with age, it can strike women of any age.

It is time that Indian women take charge against ailments such as breast cancer. We must overcome the stigma and bust all myths regarding the disease.