The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Awareness key to breast cancer check

A lump in the breast is one of the most dreaded health problems a woman can face. Statistics support the scare. According to latest data from the the ‘Population-Based Cancer Registry of Kolkata’ in Chittaranjan Cancer Institute’s department of epidemiology and bio-statistics, of a total reported 13,850 female cancer patients, breast cancer was the commonest, at an alarming 23.2 per cent and rising.

Poor awareness of the malignancy and its consequences, lack of early detection facilities and an unfortunate stigma attached to the condition often trigger surgical emergencies that could easily be pre-empted, feel city oncologists and radiologists.

“It is a superficial cancer, unlike stomach or liver malignancies and hence, offers a decent chance of early recognition. If diagnosed at Stage I, the prognosis of breast cancer is very good and the patient can be given a 99 per cent chance to live for at least another 10 years. But the palpable lack of awareness about the disease, even in a modern metro, often stands in the way of appropriate treatment,” laments consultant surgeon Manas Roy.

Roy, associated with the Cancer Foundation of India in the fields of GI tract and breast cancers, maintains that women here usually report with large lumps, often completely ignoring the problem for months. “If a malignant lump is detected when it is 2-3 cm in maximum diameter, we can do conservation surgery to remove the lump, instead of eliminating the entire breast,” he adds.

While 80 per cent of all women diagnosed with breast cancer — lobular or ductal carcinoma — have no family history, there are a few defined risk groups.

Consultant radiologist Suman S. Sarawgi feels mammography is the most important component among a triad of tools used for screening breast cancer. The two other preventive tools are clinical breast examination by a healthcare provider and monthly breast self-examination, according to the radiologist specialising in breast cancer diagnosis, formerly with National Cancer Centre, Singapore.

“An annual mammogram can save many lives, as it can find an early-stage breast cancer tumour long before it becomes detectable as a lump,” says Sarawgi, who plans to set up a dedicated centre in the city. The need for a multi-disciplinary institute to diagnose and treat breast cancer is of paramount importance, concur doctors. “But, even more pressing is the need to raise awareness,” says general surgeon Jatrik Biswas.

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