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Mayuravarshini Mohana
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Cancer is certainly a harrowing term. Even with the support of family and friends, enduring cancer can be acutely difficult. Lots of cancer survivors recall the painful moment when they were diagnosed as one when their whole world came crashing down. A heavy fear and agony sets into the heart as one’s life appears to collapse right in front of one’s eyes. Dr Keerti Tewari, survivor of breast cancer, says that the most important thing to focus on is the ‘can’ in cancer. Cancer can be beaten, it can be overcome. The right attitude is crucial.

What she also equally stresses on is early diagnosis.

Breast cancer is not gender specific but it occurs more often in women. The National Cancer Registry Programme Report 2020, released by The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Centre for Disease Informatics & Research (NCDIR), Bengaluru, estimated that in 2020 breast cancer would contribute towards 14.8% of the cancer burden among women. In fact, cancer of the breast and cervix uteri was found to be the most common type of cancer in women.

Among women with breast cancer, post cancer survival is at 60% in India as compared to 80% in the U.S. With the statistics of breast cancer prevalence being so dire, the chances of survival don’t reflect the significant advancements made in cancer treatment. The survival rates in India are low because of late diagnosis and detection. More than 50% of cancer diagnosis has occurred in advanced stages. Like in the case of most diseases, earlier medical intervention can considerably boost the chances of a complete cure.

It is a matter of grave concern that there is limited awareness among women about the symptoms of breast cancer. As much as the word cancer is widely known, preventive steps and early detection is hardly a part of collective knowledge. Dr Rohan Kesarkar finds, in a random survey conducted among 200 women, that only one-third exhibited awareness on diagnosis, risk factors, government schemes and treatment concerning breast cancer. A startling 94% knew of cancer only as a jargon.

Self-examination is a crucial step towards detecting cancer at its nascent stage. While the population showing literacy in self-examination is poor, the number of women who actually practise it is even fewer. A lot of women blame their busy lives while some don’t find it important to spend time on. It is unfortunate that women discount their health and instead prioritise work, be it professional or domestic. Women are often overworked, especially at home and our familial ethos glorifies this self-effacement as ‘sacrifice’. This is an infuriating and unpalatable sentiment that prefers risking the health of women over actually sharing domestic responsibilities.

Women must begin taking their health seriously. Increasing literacy in preventive measures and self-examination significantly improves the chance of breast cancer survival. Every October is commemorated as Breast Cancer Awareness month internationally where many organisation conduct drives to improve awareness. In India many self-help groups and NGOs have taken such initiatives, especially in rural India where awareness is significantly low. At this juncture, it is important to realise that it is also every educated individual’s responsibility to ensure breast cancer literacy among the women in their life.