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Breast cancer increasing among young women in Pakistan, experts warn

KARACHI: Experts at an awareness session titled ‘Breast cancer: is it preventable?’ expressed their concern on the alarming numbers of breast cancer cases in younger age groups and even among unmarried girls in Pakistan as compared to the rest of the world.

Gathered at the PMA House on Monday, they said that breast cancer was becoming common in Pakistani women in their forties and that one patient in every nine cases of all types of cancers in Pakistan suffered from breast cancer.

The session was the second from among five public awareness programmes chalked out to be held in the run-up to the Pakistan-China Medical Congress scheduled to open on Friday in Karachi.

Emphasising the importance of family history, experts said a woman or girl having history of breast, colon or ovarian cancer in her family, especially mother or grandmother, had an increased risk of breast cancer.

For diagnosing the disease at an early stage, each girl after experiencing the start of her menstrual period should self-examine to detect any gland with or without pain. If spotted she should immediately consult a specialist or consultant for further check-up and screening.

Dr Farah Idrees Rehmani of the Dow University of Health Sciences said there were many misconceptions among the general public about breast cancer. People consider it a lethal disease with severe pain and diagnosed at a terminal stage. They also believe that the disease happened to an older age group. “Breast cancer starts with a small size gland more often without pain,” she said.

She added that women older than 60 years suffered from breast cancer in other parts of world but the situation was different in Pakistan where “we are witnessing cases in women in their 40s. Almost 15 per cent of these cases involve unmarried girls.”

Prolonged use of estrogen like in oral birth control pills could also increase the risk of breast cancer in the next generation of woman, she said. Woman having their first baby after the age of 30 years further increased their risk.

Dr Idrees said there was no cancer registry at the national level, however, an examination of data from Islamabad and Karachi cancer registries showed that every ninth case of all cancers was diagnosed as breast cancer in women. As for men, breast cancer was diagnosed in one in every 100 men.

Though awareness among the masses was on the rise, yet, patients were reaching hospital at later stages of the disease.

Dr Muhammad Asif Qureshi of Darul Sehat Hospital said mammograms were a routine diagnostic tool nowadays for detecting the disease in women in their forties. He said it was least harmful and very important in diagnosing the disease.

Dr Shaukat Malik, president of the Karachi chapter of the PMA, said screening and diagnosis facilities were better in public sector hospitals in Karachi and this needed to be replicated in other parts of Sindh as well. “A recent study finds that in every 100 cases of cancers, 40 are of breast cancer which should alarm everyone,” he said.