Every year, around the world, breast cancer is diagnosed in 2.1 million. In 2018, 627,000 women died from breast cancer. It accounts for 15% of cancer-related deaths in women. In the US, 12% of women are at risk of it. Around the world, every ninth woman is likely to suffer from this form of cancer.
Breast cancer has always been a grave issue but sadly under-discussed, especially in countries like Pakistan. Issues related to women or their health are still considered taboo in Pakistan. Hence, women suffer. People need to realize that women too deserve a healthy life. While diagnosis, treatment and prevention have advanced in other countries, Pakistan lags considerably.
It must be kept in mind that men, too, can have breast cancer, although women are more likely to suffer. Moreover, it is more likely to be diagnosed in women who are in their 40s as compared to women in their 30s. There is no doubt that it is a killer disease. But timely diagnosis and treatment, prevention, and awareness can result in a 90 per cent chance of cure. However, the emphasis is on ‘timely’.
Breast Cancer in Pakistan
Women, especially in low developed countries, do not have access to adequate healthcare. Hence, the mortality rate from breast cancer is higher in such countries. Pakistan is one glaring example. In Pakistan, every eighth woman is likely to develop it. In Pakistan, roughly 83,000 cases are reported every year. Sadly, each year, 40,000 women die from it.
In rural areas, women are already living without adequate health facilities. Even in urban centres, awareness of breast cancer is minimal. The reason is our cultural and gender prejudices and the belief that women must not divulge in such debates with anyone.
The increasing number of breast cancer-related cases and deaths are a result of this sick and outdated mentality. In October, which is regarded as the ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month’, articles related to it appear. TV shows do a one-off show on it as well. The remaining eleven months, the issue is once again put on the back-burner. Ultimately, it is the women who suffer the most.
When we talk about breast cancer, the first thing that people usually ask is “what is breast cancer?”
What is Breast Cancer?
It is a disease in which cells in the breast rapidly grow out of control. A body forms new cells to replace damaged or old cells. However, when out of control, the cells start to develop rapidly. These rapid growth cells form a lump, which is referred to as a tumour. Around 80% of the tumours are non-cancerous. A tumour becomes cancer when they begin to invade and destroy nearby organs and tissues.
Where Does it Occur?
It can occur anywhere in the breast. A breast is made up of three parts:
- Lobules (the glands which produce milk)
- Ducts (the tubes which carry the milk to the nipples)
- Connective tissue (everything else)
Most types begin in the lobules or the ducts. It brings me to my next topic, different types of breast cancer.
Upon diagnosis, the doctor will classify cancer as: non-invasive (within the lobules or ducts), primary/invasive (in the tissue; outside lobules and ducts) or secondary/metastatic (when cancerous cells spread to other parts of the body).
There are various types of breast cancer. But there are two most common ones, which are:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma: In this type, the cancerous cells develop outside the ducts, spreading to other tissue. It is 50-75 per cent of all breast cancers.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma: In this type, cancer is formed in the lobules and spreads to other tissues. It is 5-15 per cent of all cancers.
Signs & Symptoms
There are various signs and symptoms for which people should be on the lookout. If you come across any of these signs, immediately consult a doctor.
- Swelling in the breast. Irrespective of whether it is the whole breast or a part of it.
- Pain in the breast.
- Pain in the nipple.
- Nipple starts turning inwards.
- Discharge from the nipple, i.e. anything other than milk.
- Redness on the breast or surrounding area.
- Changes to the lymph nodes.
- Changes to the breast’s skin.