KARACHI – Pakistan has the highest rate of breast cancer in Asia, and more than 30,000 women should be reporting every year to just one major tertiary-care hospital, specializing in cancer treatment.
Dr Saeeda Malik, Sindh minister for women development, said this while speaking at a briefing, organized by an NGO which has launched a drive to create an awareness about breast cancer.
The minister further stated that Pakistani women were particularly more vulnerable to the disease because of dismal literacy rate. In the 21st century, Pakistani women, said Dr Malik, were falling victim to cancer in younger ages as compared to a few decades ago.
“When I was a student, we came across breast cancer among middle-aged women. But today even girls in their 20s and 30s are getting this ailment.” The speakers underscored the need for mass awareness about breast cancer which, according to the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association, represents the most common and deadliest disease afflicting women. In Pakistan, every ninth woman had this type of cancer.
Social customs and taboos make it quite difficult for the rural women to come forward and disclose their condition to healthcare professionals, said Dr Malik. “This is one reason why the cases are not detected in early stages.”
The minister also highlighted relevance of regular exercise and diet towards onset of the disease as generally obese women of above 40 years are at high risk also with those who may have borne children at later age or those who may be avoiding breast-feeding their babies.
The minister said the Pakistani women who were slim and tall seemed to be especially predisposed to cancer. The women belonging to families which had breast cancer in their history were also quite vulnerable.
“Such women should go for mammography every couple of years.” Awareness be created among the masses so that women might be able to examine their own bodies to determine if they had lumps or not.
Omer Aftab, national coordinator for Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, the organisers of the event, announced that his NGO had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the ministry for women’s development, under which a database was proposed to be created for the benefit of doctors and other researchers.
He said his NGO would also be training some 200,000 Lady Health Visitors who could create awareness at the grassroots level. Mr Aftab reminded that October was being observed as international solidarity with those striving with breast cancer.
Referring to the campaign being launched across the country, he said it comprises four components, including awareness of dangerously high level of incidence of the disease; awareness that it is curable; awareness that it could be detected at early stages even by simple self-examination; Life after cancer is worth living.
Shaheen Khan of the same group said treatment of cancer was confined to a few major cities of the country. There was a need to create awareness in the rural areas of the country because a majority of the Pakistani women lived there.
The people of the rural areas often had to travel more than 300 miles to get to a good healthcare centre, she added. And only five per cent of the Pakistanis had insured themselves against health problems.