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We need to talk about breast cancer!

Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts.

Breast cancer awareness is an effort to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of breast cancer through education on symptoms and treatment.

The pink ribbon is the most prominent symbol of breast cancer awareness, and in many countries the month of October is being observed as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), also referred to in America as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), is an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities every October to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention,

The pink ribbon is an international symbol of breast cancer awareness. Pink ribbons, and the color pink in general, identify the wearer or promoter with the breast cancer brand and express moral support for women with breast cancer.

From this awareness campaign, the campaigners try to tell the people about the early signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

As a tumor develops, you may note the following signs: A lump in the breast or underarm that persists after your menstrual cycle.

This is often the first apparent symptom of breast cancer. Lumps associated with breast cancer are usually painless, although some may cause a prickly sensation.

The warning signs of breast cancer are: Lump, hard knot or thickening. Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening.

Breast cancer spreads quickly.

Very often, the first area that a cancer usually spreads to is the lymph nodes in the underarm area (the axilla). Once the cancer enters the lymphatic system, it can and usually does spread to other areas of the body.

Pakistan is a developing country and most of the population is living in rural areas. In rural areas of Pakistan, no formal health infrastructure is available for rural population.

Illiteracy is also a major cause of breast cancer among women because women have no awareness about personal hygienic conditions.

Most of the Pakistani women have no proper access to the medical facilities due to gender discrimination. More than half of the population is based upon women.

In Asia, Pakistan has the highest rate of breast cancer.

Young women also present at advanced stage of breast cancer, which has negative effect on prognosis. In rural areas, rural women are developing a great number of breast cancers every year because it is an inherited disease, which is transmitted from mother to daughter. Pakistani rural as well as urban women are facing cervical, ovarian and uterine cancers.

Every year a huge number of women are die due to breast cancer and Hepatitis-C.

There are currently 21 Cancer hospitals offering their services in Pakistan. 7 cancer hospitals are working in Punjab, 5 in Sindh, 5 in KPK and 2 each in Balochistan and GilgitBaltistan. Cancer treatment is expensive and only ShaukatKhanum Memorial Cancer Hospital (SKMCH), Bait-ul-Sukoon Cancer Hospital and Children Cancer Foundation Hospital are providing free and comprehensive treatment plans.

We do not have adequate facilities/ resources for national breast cancer screening, including mammograms to diagnose breast cancer at earliest possible stage.

However, to increase awareness we need to talk about breast cancer in print and electronic media, and breast cancer awareness programmes should be organized at schools, colleges and hospitals.

We have never tried seriously to estimate the burden of disease and impact of awareness or screening measures we are taking. Are these measures enough to address this deadly disease? When we look at the data of patients diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, we realize that there has been a marked variation in this duration of last 21 years although there is overall upward trend towards improvement, which is more marked in the last couple of years.

When we compare the percentage of stage 1 breast cancer patients to stage 1 younger women aged less than 40 years we see that the numbers are much smaller with variations, although this also shows slight upward trend. This emphasizes the need to pay attention to younger women, too, for early diagnosis.

Various reasons reported for delay in diagnosis are lack of awareness, contributed by lack of education, economic pressures, fear, and lack of adequate cancer care facilities. We need to pay attention to early diagnosis and management of breast cancer in our population, where the incidence is high and diagnosis at an advanced stage.

One of the possible ways could be to increase literacy rate and include health education in our school and college curricula. This methodology has proved to have positive impact in our society.

With existing breast cancer awareness strategies, the rate of change for early detection of this deadly disease is very slow.

Effective and acute measures are needed at local and national levels to bring about the desired change in younger and older women.

The need of the hour is that we, as a nation, need to be more vigilant and proactive about non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like breast cancer.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not represent ARY policies or opinion.