The entire month of October, from the 1st to the 31st, is being observed globally as Breast Cancer Awareness Month — though that is scarcely evident from the coverage that it has received in Pakistan. The NGO ‘Pink Ribbon’ that seeks to promote breast cancer awareness issued a press release to coincide with the beginning of the month and there was some interest on TV channels, but beyond that very little. Few will be aware that Pakistan has the highest incidence of breast cancer in all the Asian populations. It is the most frequent malignancy to occur in women and accounts for 38.5 per cent of all cancers in women with a staggering 90,000 new cases every year, and as many as 40,000 deaths. Out of local cases, 43.7 per cent are judged to be ‘advanced’ — a total that could be significantly reduced with timely intervention.
Breast cancer awareness in Pakistan is abysmally low. Women in other countries have long been persuaded by their governments to conduct a simple self-check of their own breasts every month. No medical experience or training is necessary and every woman is able to check her own body for lumps and bumps or any other irregularity in the breasts. This must not be limited to married women; any female who has passed puberty, married or single, is vulnerable. Breast cancer is often thought of as a death sentence, and the cultural propensity for fatalism feeds on this perverse perception. Women allow cancers to develop without referring themselves for diagnosis and treatment, which directly links to a culture of late detection and follow-up, which is then expressed in high levels of mortality. In places where there is a culture of early examination and diagnosis, the chances of surviving breast cancer are as high as 90 per cent. Like so many other crises in the public-health sector, breast cancer is exacerbated by ignorance and an unwillingness to embrace the new. We strongly support Pink Ribbon in its efforts to raise awareness, and urge the government to do the same — starting in our schools.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2015.
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