Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2019

Encourage open conversation to break the stigma

The Breast Cancer Awareness Month, marked in countries across the world every October, helps to increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection and treatment as well as palliative care of this disease. Though breast cancer is recognized as one of the top cancers affecting Bangladeshi women, people in Bangladesh are still very tight-lipped about breast cancer. Most of the women in Bangladesh are completely unaware of their illness because of social stigma attached to sexual organs. In Bangladesh, not only rural and uneducated women but also educated women consider talking about breast cancer as something shameful. This certainly causes a lack of communication with families and friends about breast cancer. Such taboo is the reason for many premature deaths from breast cancer in Bangladesh. In this regard, mass media can play a vital role by building awareness and helping to normalize the conversation around such taboo subjects.

It is startling to note that about 12,764 new breast cancer patients are detected every year while the number of deaths from breast cancer annually is 6,846 across the globe and the situation in getting worse day-by-day.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), 65.5 percent of breast cancer patients delayed their diagnosis by more than six months, although 83 percent of them found lumps in their breasts or had other symptoms of breast cancer. Experts blame social taboos and unawareness as the main reasons for unchecked breast cancer and delay in early detection. Hence, there is no alternative of breaking the stigmas regarding breast cancer lessen the sufferings of advanced breast cancer and improve the mortality rate.

Media should encourage open conversations

 with breast cancer survivors and doctors 

to find the most respectful ways to promote

 awareness. Breast cancer patients should 

be treated as breast cancer survivors by 

changing the public mindset through

 education and improving awareness about

 the disease, timely screening tests for early

 diagnosis and better treatment options

In low- and middle-income countries the number of breast cancer patient has been rising up steadily in the last years due to increase in life expectancy, increase urbanization and adoption of western lifestyles. The majority of deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, where most women with breast cancer are diagnosed in late stages due mainly to lack of awareness on early detection and barriers to health services.

Breast cancer awareness programs are more concentrated in the cities and have not reached the remote and rural parts of the country. It is hardly surprising that the majority of breast cancer patients are still treated at locally advanced and metastatic stages. Lack of an organized breast cancer screening program, paucity of diagnostic aids, and general indifference towards the health of females in our predominantly patriarchal society do not help early diagnosis of breast cancer

Currently there is not sufficient knowledge on the causes of breast cancer, therefore, early detection of the disease remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control. When breast cancer is detected early, and if adequate diagnosis and treatment are available, there is a good chance that breast cancer can be cured. If detected late, however, curative treatment is often no longer an option. In such cases, palliative care to relief the suffering of patients and their families is needed.

Oncologists told us that that now-a-days all modern facilities are available in Bangladesh in treatment of different stages of breast cancer. The number of cancer centres is very poor in Bangladesh. So government as well as private initiative should be encouraged in establishment of more cancer care centre. Government should give more emphasis in buying modern machines which can serve the people at government level. Concerted efforts by the government and private sectors are needed for improving breast cancer care services in Bangladesh. 

Breast cancer is curable indeed if detected at the early stage.  In this regard, there is need for regular self-examination of abnormality of breasts.  Also media should encourage open conversations with breast cancer survivors and doctors to find the most respectful ways to promote awareness. Breast cancer patients should be treated as breast cancer survivors by changing the public mindset through education and improving awareness about the disease, timely screening tests for early diagnosis and better treatment options.

(Information collected from WHO and other sources)

Sayeed Shuvro is a member of the editorial team, 

Bangladesh Post