Ignorance is not bliss

Ignorance is not bliss

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for women aged 40-59. Every three minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Every 13 minutes a woman dies from breast cancer. Breast cancer accounts for 20 per cent of the total cancer-related diseases in India and is largely prevalent among urban women. 75,000 new cases occur in Indian women every year. A World Health Organisation survey suggests that by 2020 there will be 10 million new cancer cases every year in the developing world of which 6 million people will die. In India alone it is estimated that 1.5 million new cancer cases will occur yearly at the start of this century. These depressing statistics speak of the alarming magnitude of the problem, and necessitates an urgent need for creating awareness about prevention, control, and cure of breast cancer.

About 100 women from Thane discovered the truth about breast cancer last Saturday, when veteran surgeon Dr Ravi Deshmukh, retired head of surgery at Grant Medical College, provided insights into prevention and control of breast cancer. The seminar, held at Sarva Seva Samiti Hall in Thane East between 5.30 and 7 pm, was organised by social worker Veena Bhatia. Dr Deshmukh revealed that one out of every 30 women in India suffers from the malady and attributed the cause to genetic disposition, late marriage, having fewer children and shorter duration of breast feeding. He urged the women present to check themselves thoroughly on the first of every month and immediately report to the doctor in case they find an abnormality. Dr Deshmukh stressed that not every tumor is cancerous and women should not panic if they discover something abnormal. The problem with Indian women is that they are shy of visiting cancer specialists, most of who are men. They also defer the test in apprehension of what they might discover, sometimes for up to two years, after which it is too late for cure. But this is a big mistake, said Dr Deshmukh, because early detection can prevent the cancer from turning malignant. He suggested that every woman who turns 38 should get a basic mammography done to rule out the chances of breast cancer. He also outlined some basic health and hygiene criteria for women to follow and demonstrated the techniques of self-examination through an audio visual presentation.

A Q&A that followed saw many women asking relevant questions regarding costs of treatment, where to go, whom to approach and so on. One very useful piece of information that Dr Deshmukh shared was that women who discover that they have breast cancer need not wait to get admission to TATA memorial hospital, which sometimes takes precious months. In fact they need leave Thane, because all the advanced treatment facilities are available right here.

Before he ended his session, Dr Deshmukh took a promise from all women present in the audience that they will check themselves on the first of every month and spread the word by informing at least seven other women about what they learnt in the seminar. Incidentally, he revealed that one other problem with spreading awareness about breast cancer is the reluctance of women to attend such seminar even. Dr Deshmukh requested Bhatia to open a centre for breast cancer in Thane on lines of western countries and offered technical help for the same if needed.

Several women requested the doctor for an opportunity to speak to him individually after the seminar was formally over. Although the seminar met its immediate objective of educating the 100-odd women, its larger objective of preventing breast cancer and controlling its incidence will depend on how many women who attended the seminar, and those who are reading this column, follow the advice given by Dr Deshmukh. Remember, when it comes to cancer, ignorance is anything but bliss.

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