The B-Word

2015 ended on an incredibly bitter note. I lost one of my best friends to the dreaded disease known as breast cancer. Apart from having to deal with the emotional repercussions of her death, it was a harsh wake up call for me, and other women in my life, to be more aware of this disease, which is increasingly becoming more common in India.


The statistics given by GLOBOCAN, a WHO project, for India are dismal. In 2012, about 144,937 women were newly detected with breast cancer, out of which 70,218 women died of breast cancer. So roughly, in India, for every 2 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, one is dying of it. For the year 2015, WHO had predicted that there will be an estimated 1,55,000 new cases of breast cancer and about 76, 000 women in India are expected to die of the disease. These numbers are alarming to say the least. What makes this extremely disturbing is that more and more women in the age range 30-40 years, are getting diagnosed of breast cancer.

In India, it has been observed that patients turn up in later stages, due to which they do not survive long irrespective of the best treatment they may get, and hence the mortality is fairly high. There are lots of reasons for late presentations including lack of awareness, women neglecting their health, shyness on part of patients, social stigma, ignorance of doctors, and others. Apart from the obvious physical symptoms, breast cancer also has a severe negative impact on the psychological, social and economic dimensions of one’s life.

Research on reasons causing cancer is hazy and vague, ranging from genetic factors to lifestyle aspects. Thus, it is imperative to increase awareness about it, so as to arrest the cancer at earlier stages. This is the strategy which has been followed by the United States of America, to reduce the mortality due to breast cancer. It is advised that every woman above the age of 20, must regularly do a Breast Self Examination, also known as BSE, and must also be evaluated by a doctor every few years. After the age of 40, a mammography is recommended every year. Regular screenings help in identifying the symptoms before they aggravate, and prevent mortality.

Another aspect which affects mortality among cancer patients is psychological support. As cancer treatment is very aggressive and physically demanding on one’s body and mind, it is important to provide adequate emotional support to cancer patients and their families. If you know anyone with cancer, it is important to direct them to various cancer support groups. A pool of shared experiences and positive survivor stories will go a long way in healing a cancer patient.

While medical science hasn’t made it possible to prevent cancer, it is in our hands to increase dissemination of information, so as to prevent mortality as far as possible. An excellent way to do so is to encourage more and more women to go for BSEs, in order to detect any abnormality, as early as possible. An excellent resource, providing detailed steps are available here:

Breast cancer is something we wouldn’t wish on anyone. It affects not just the patient, but all those close to him/her. Only increased awareness and information can take us one step closer to avoiding the number of deaths caused by breast cancer. Let’s join hands and prevent this dreaded disease from taking away wonderful women around the world!

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