COVID 19 has exacerbated the problem of delayed breast cancer diagnosis

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Increasing incidence of breast cancer among over-50s is a worrying phenomenon.

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Even as India witnesses a rising incidence of breast cancer, COVID 19 and its long-standing aftermath has severely disrupted care and treatment for thousands of women, with delay in diagnosis becoming a major problem. Oncologists are urging women not to delay reporting breast cancer-related symptoms because of COVID 19 fear, as it could prove fatal.

Breast cancer has emerged today as the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in India as well as around the world. Oncologists say India has also witnessed a worrying phenomenon of increasing breast cancer cases among women under the age of 50. Early diagnosis and use of prognostic tests such as Can Assist Breast can help significantly improve survival rates.

β€œIn the past year since the COVID 19 outbreak, patients have been wary of visiting hospitals for fear of contracting the infection. This has resulted in delayed diagnosis of many diseases, including breast cancer. Many patients ignored lumps or abnormal breast-related developments for months and reached out to specialists at delayed stages of the disease. It was particularly difficult for patients living in rural areas for whom traveling to nearby subways for consultation and treatment became extremely difficult,” said Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta, Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncology, Bhagwan Mahavir Hospital.

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Unfortunately, lack of awareness and regular screenings imply that most cancers are diagnosed at later stages in India, resulting in low survival rates. In a country where the delayed diagnosis of breast cancer is already a major problem, the pandemic has exacerbated the situation.

Also read: Breast Cancer Screening Tests: What Every Woman Should Know

β€œAs early diagnosis is the only way to save lives, it is important that people do not delay reporting their symptoms or seek medical consultations for fear of contracting the infection in the healthcare system. Early detection also allows us to use prognostic testing and personalize treatments for patients based on their risk profile. Prognostic tests such as Can Assist Breast help analyze the risk of cancer relapse and enable doctors to reduce overtreatment. Patients at very low risk of relapse can avoid both invasive treatments and chemotherapy, resulting in better health outcomes and lower treatment costs,” said Dr. gupta.

Lack of awareness about the disease and its symptoms and the taboo surrounding women’s health imply that breast exams are almost absent in the state. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS 4) found that less than 5% of women in Rajasthan had ever had a breast exam.

Urban lifestyles, unhealthy diet, increase in obesity, lack of exercise, high incidence of smoking and drinking are factors responsible for the increase in breast cancer incidence in India. The incidence of breast cancer has skyrocketed over the past 20 years due to the lifestyle changes mentioned above. A delayed delivery age and fewer breastfeeding years are other factors that increase the risk of breast cancer.

Women should do regular self-examinations to make sure there is no abnormal development or growth in their breasts. It is important for women to be aware of changes in their breasts and to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. In addition, women over the age of 40 are advised to undergo regular clinical screening for breast cancer.

Some possible breast cancer signs and symptoms to watch out for:

  • A new lump or mass, usually painless
  • Pain in breast or nipple
  • dimples in the skin
  • Nipple turning in or discharge
  • Red, flaky, or thickened skin
  • Swelling in the breast or nipple or swollen lymph nodes

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