October is a month of breast cancer awareness month around the world equally observed in Pakistan.
After skin, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women characterized by the growth of malignant cells in the mammary glands and spread of tumor is known as metastasis.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in eight women developed breast cancer across the globe. Whereas, Pakistan is on top in Asian countries in breast cancer.
In every nine women one woman is diagnosed for cancer which is an alarming situation. Breast Cancer threatens over 0.8 million female lives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone causing a number of cancer-related deaths in the province. Around 10 million women in Pakistan are facing the threat and annually around 40,000 women lose their lives as 25% women below 40 suffer from breast cancer.
So far, the only data available for the disease is generic information acquired through hospitals providing medical assistance to women with breast cancer, including Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, Institute of Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine, Hayatabad Medical Complex Peshawar, INOR hospital Abbottabad, SINOR hospital Saidu, besides medical centers in different district headquarters across KP.
The common fact is that 50 percent of patients are diagnosed with breast cancer without treatment. Ms. Saima Abid Majeed, the president of Public Health Association KP, shared “every year Khyber Pakhtunkhwa register approximately 15,000 new cases of breast cancer.
The challenges to prevention of breast cancer include illiteracy, lack of awareness, information, taboos, social stigma, affordability and accessibility.
“The inadequate medical facilities and infrastructure, absence of a national cancer registry, lack of national cancer prevention program and dearth of specialized human resource, add to hurdles in timely treatment for the breast cancer, she adds.
Saira, a girl of 30, belonging to Peshawar KP, diagnosed with Breast cancer a year ago after observing unusual growth of cells in the chest area. She said, “Initially few months I did not consult doctors because my family deny medical checkups, due to cultural stigma, lack of female doctors and the fear of isolation which follows diagnosis”. She exclaimed.
Although female medial staff is available in the province still lack of woman surgeons compounds the problem since majority of local women are still not open to the idea of being operated by a male surgeon.
Women feel reluctant to seek expert opinion especially in case of chest pain. In many cases patients often tend to go for temporary relief through consumption of antibiotics but that doesn’t work for every chest pain.
Special Assistant to Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for Information and Public Relations Kamran Bangash in July made an announcement that the provincial assembly had passed a resolution on breast cancer unanimously and the provincial government would soon launch the first-ever breast cancer control programme in the province.
He added that the government would provide full support to the Public Health Association for spreading awareness related to breast cancer.
In 2011 Begum Nusrat Bhutto Oncology Services project was launched by provincial government currently renamed ‘Poor Blood Cancer Patients Project’. Presently, around 5,000 cancer patients are getting free treatment under the program.
Since 2011, MOU was signed between the government and Pharmaceutical company Novartis in which the KP government has paid Rs2 billion for free treatment while Novartis contributed Rs22 billion to the project. Patients suffering from blood and breast cancer were entitled to get free treatment. However, owing to an unprecedented rise in other types of cancer patients in the province, the KP government has allocated Rs500 million for free treatment of the patients suffering from cancer other than blood and breast cancer.
Also, recently, Khyber teaching hospital and Khyber medical college in coordination with surgery, radiology, community medicine department and IRNUM hospital Peshawar arranged a breast cancer awareness camp for the month of October.
The survival rate for stage 0 and stage 1 breast cancer is 100% with full treatment but as the disease spreads and increases in stages the survival rate faces decrease. Stage 2 has 93%, stage 3 has 72% and stage 4 has the least to none survival rate of 22% and is also considered as the last stage.
Despite such grim situation the absence of national registry for breast cancer patients, has made it impossible to formulate comprehensive health policy.
There is need for activating Breast Cancer Control Programme on war footing with induction of more technical experts, increase in number of treatment centers, diagnostic services and specialists to bridge the gap.