Donít ignore that painless lump

Garg who conducted a study of over 1,000 women in Chandigarh to understand their perception of breast cancer found that over 82% didn't know that early breast cancer was painless. "Most think that a painless lump in the breast is harmless. Women should report all types of lumps to their doctors; this will help in early diagnosis and possibly even a complete cure," he said.

Garg's study found that over 80% patients didn't think that a lump in the armpit was a sign of early cancer. Over one-third thought that breast pain was the important symptom of early cancer. The misconception that "pain is an important sign" is prevalent in India, and is evident in the fact that 70% of breast cancer cases are detected late as compared to developed nations, where late detection is 20%.

Dr Siddharth Sahni, HoD of breast cancer surgery at BLK Super Speciality Hospital says breast cancer, if detected in Stage 1, has a nearly 98% cure rate. "A lot depends on the type of tumour.

The average size of a breast cancer tumour in London is 1.1cm, but in New Delhi it is 3.9cm. Here we deal with tumours in Stage 2 or 3," he said.

Screening mammography to check for cancer in a woman who is asymptomatic is recommended every one-two years for women once they reach 40 years, and every year once they turn 50.

In India especially in rural areas, regular clinical examination and mammography is not feasible due to shortage of skilled clinicians, lack of X-ray machines and prohibitory costs.

According to the WHO's latest World Health Statistics (WHS), less than 5% Indian women, aged 50-69, underwent screening by mammography between 2000 and 2003. WHO says there is significant evidence to show that mammography screening among women in this age group reduces mortality by 15% to 25%. Garg's study also showed that 71% women had no clue about mammography.

Dr Geeta Pandya of Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai said that often, women feel awkward about approaching doctors for breast examinations. "Another factor is the inherent fear that she may have cancer, and so she avoids going for a check-up."

ref cancer research studies in Asia

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