Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting females in India, accounting for 14 per cent of all cancers among women.1 1 in 29 females are projected to develop breast cancer during their lifetime..2 Of these, more than 40% of Indian women are diagnosed with advanced (stage 3 or 4) breast cancer. The ongoing pandemic posed various obstacles contributing to late diagnosis and poor treatment adherence, exacerbating challenges of limited screenings across rural and urban areas and poor health-seeking behaviours. Other challenges include social stigma, fear of cancer diagnosis or discussing the same with family members, shame over having a breast examination, and alternative priorities, which result in women neglecting their health and delaying screenings and care, resulting in lowered patient survival rates at advanced disease stages.
According to Dr Chanchal Goswami, Consultant Oncologist and HOD, AMRI Hospitals Kolkata said, “Today, breast cancer has emerged as the most common form of cancer, in Kolkata and across the country, surpassing cervical cancer and accounting for 23 % of all women cancer cases. Unfortunately, even though breast cancer can be easily diagnosed through screenings, as many as 35 % of cases are detected in advanced stages of the disease, typically in the third or fourth stage, posing challenges to treatment. Diagnosis is often delayed owing to women’s fear and hesitancy in seeking helping, despite the presence of symptoms, due to social stigma or lack of awareness. In Kolkata, women in the age group between 45 years and older are more susceptible to breast cancer due to age, gender, nulliparity, lack of breast feeding, early menarche, late menopause, use of oral contraceptives, use of hormone replacement therapies, alcohol intake, obesity and history of breast and ovarian cancers in family and carriers of BRCA 1 & 2 gene.
He further emphasised “Breast cancer doesn’t mean end of life, today treatment options for Breast cancer have advanced giving hope to patients even in stage 3 and 4 or advanced stage cancer, thus patients must discuss their treatment options with oncologists. Newer drugs such as molecular therapy treatment has been proved to be effective amongst patients who suffer from hormone positive breast cancer, which is also the most commonest form of cancer amongst Indian women. With treatment advancement as much as 50% to 95% of patients are responding positively to such treatments, enabling them to lead normal lives with an enhanced quality of life. With such innovations, cancer can be viewed as a chronic disease that needs Management.”
There are a variety of treatment options available for breast cancer based on the individual’s specific case, including surgery, or chemotherapy, or advanced targeted therapies and hormonal therapies, which can be adopted for advanced breast cancer cases as well, particularly to shrink the cancer or attack abnormal breast cancer cells without causing harm to normally functioning cells. Newer targeted therapy advancements have also limited adverse side effects compared to more traditional forms of treatment, such as chemotherapy, which can result in significant daily life compromises.
Many patients and their families believe that advanced breast cancer represents the end of life. A pattern observed across Indian women and their care takers, instead of spending on treatment for attaining an improved standard of care, patients and their care takers believe to save money for future of families
There is a dire need to raise awareness amongst patients and caregivers about the availability of treatment options even at advanced stages of the disease.
If you’re an advanced-stage breast cancer patient – discuss your treatment options with your oncologist to manage your disease, alleviate troubling symptoms and live with an enhanced quality of life and care.