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Monday November 29, 2021

Health experts concerned over breast cancer being still a taboo in Pakistani society

October 22, 2021

Breast cancer is curable if detected early but many women still lose their lives to it because they are scared to discuss it and don’t have the proper knowledge of how to deal with such health issues.

Dr Nida Hussain, Ziauddin University (ZU) pro chancellor, said this while speaking at an online session of the 8th Interactive Series of ZU Dialogues, titled ‘Give Hope, Save Lives’, to mark October as the breast cancer awareness month.

She said women suffering from breast cancer often confused its medical aspects with moral aspects. “The disease, if detected easily, has a very good survival rate. Lack of access to health care is there even in our urban population,” she added.

The purpose of the session was to spread words on breast cancer awareness and inform young girls and women about the importance of attending breast cancer screenings so that the disease could be detected in its early stages.

“One of the reasons why it is a taboo is because the word breast is a taboo,” Dr Nida Hussain explained as she discussed why people of Pakistan were reluctant to discuss the disease although its incidence and mortality rate were high in the country.

She said that if girls felt a lump or any other unusual thing on their breasts, they were hesitant to tell even their parents and siblings about it. Dr Nida Wahid Bashir, consultant breast and general surgeon at the Dr Ziauddin Hospital, while answering a question about how fast breast cancer could spread, said that every woman should know how her breasts normally looked so that she could recognise any changes that may occur.

She explained the cancer was not caused by a single agent. She added that cancer is the loss of the body’s ability to control the growth of a cell group.

A woman should still get her regular mammograms and clinical breast exams as these tests can help detect breast cancer before she even has symptoms, she said. The expert also stressed the need for knowing about breast cancer in pregnant women. “Pregnancy-associated breast cancer [PABC] is defined as breast cancer diagnosed during pregnancy or in the first postpartum year. It affects approximately 1 in 3,000 pregnant women and is the second most common malignancy affecting pregnancy. The average age of women with PABC is 32 to 38 years. This is one of the most aggressive cancers that you can have – cancer that develops during pregnancy because due to hormonal influences,” she said.

Dr Reena Kumari Sunil, consultant oncologist at the Dr Ziauddin Hospital, also shed light on pregnancy-associated breast cancer, saying that the occurrence of it had been rising and that might be due to delayed childbearing.

“Certain risk factors are lifestyle-related, including the use of birth control pills, hormone therapy after menopause, having children, drinking alcohol, being overweight or obese, and not being physically active,” she said, adding that having one or several risk factors did not mean a woman would necessarily develop breast cancer.

“Only 5% of breast cancers are due to genetics. If you have family history, you should get genetic testing done as you are at a higher risk of getting cancer,” Dr Reena explained. Dr. Zubia Masood, consultant breast and general surgeon at the Dr Ziauddin Hospital, spoke about risk factors in breast cancer. “The main risk factors for breast cancer include being a woman and getting older,” she said, adding that most breast cancers were found in women of age 40 and above.

“Uncontrollable factors that may increase risk include personal/family history, race, breast density and menstrual period history,” she said. “Different countries run different screening programmes based on the prevalence of the disease. However, you can get breast cancer in early ages too based on genetics and family history. So you should get screened at an early age. A mammogram is not the only option, there are other ways to screen it,” she added. The dialogue was moderated by Maria Khan, the president of ZU Welfare Aid.