LAHORE: Out of more than 200 women, who showed up at the free breast cancer diagnosis and awareness camp at the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Oncology (INMOL) Hospital, only 50 were registered for a mammography.
A majority of the women were above the age of 40 while all the women who were registered had no knowledge about having a lump. Women with lumps or already diagnosed with breast cancer were turned away by the institute, with the administration stressing that the camp was an awareness camp. “It was arranged for those who don’t know much about breast cancer or have no tumors, at least to their knowledge. Those who have been already diagnosed should consult with the doctors,” said Samina Khokhar, who delivered a lecture about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer on the first day.
A seminar participant, who had come with the hopes of getting registered but was told she couldn’t, said, “I have a lump which hurts.
However, they tell me that a painful lump is less dangerous than one that does not hurt. But I’m still uncomfortable and worried. I thought this free camp will help me but it didn’t. They are conducting mammography on those who are alright. I missed the lecture because the newspaper ad did not mention it.”
Fatima, another woman who had come to get registered, said, “We are not being treated politely. I’m a single mother of five and I took a day off from the school I’m teaching at to come here. But they aren’t cooperating.”
Dr Khokhar said that INMOL had limited resources for the camp and could not entertain all 200 of the women. “10 million women have breast cancer in Pakistan. That is the highest ratio of the disease in South Asia.” Not all the visitors were upset with the administration. Mrs Zeenat, who attended the lecture on the first day, said, “Even though I think they should have registered more women, I’m really thankful to the people who talked about the issue.”
Dr Misbah Masood, the head of the department of Oncology at INMOL said, “Women find it difficult to get any information about breast cancer. We are trying to make them aware about self examination and the importance of an early diagnosis.” Masood added that there exists a ‘taboo’ when it comes to discussing breast cancer. “An early diagnosis is possible through mammography. Starting treatment as early as possible is crucial but women are shy to consult doctors. Their hesitance leads to their death.”
Dr Khokhar added, “This is not a matter of shame. Women should know that nobody can blame them for having breast cancer. Some women feel guilty even when they have done nothing wrong.”
According to Dr Massod, at the initial stages (0 to 1) the chances of being cured are 100 per cent and usually involve a small operation. “However if it advances to the mature stages (2 to 3) the survival rate falls to 50 per cent. At stage 4, the survival rate dips sharply.”
Samina Khokhar said that the main aim of holding the camp was to create awareness. “We asked the women who attended the lecture to pass on what they learnt to other women.”
Rafia, a mother of three and a teacher, termed the lecture an eye-opener, “I’m 48 and had no information about the disease, “I am going to share what I learnt with my students as well as my daughters. All women should be aware about breast cancer.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2010.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 29, 2010
Due to a transcription error, an earlier version of this article misstated the number of women who have breast cancer in Pakistan. The number is 10 million, not 90 million.