Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2020: Over 90% of breast cancer patients can survive the disease if it is detected in the early stage with advanced treatment protocols and prognostic tests, improving longevity and quality of life. Unfortunately, almost 65% of patients in India are still diagnosed in advanced stages, resulting in an enormous burden of preventable deaths. Doctors also express concern over COVID-19 pandemic delaying presentation and further hampering timely detection and treatment. Dr Sameer Kaul, Sr Surgical Oncologist Apollo Cancer Institute Delhi points out that urban areas bear a high burden of breast cancer with one in every eight women in Delhi facing a lifetime risk of developing the disease.
Almost 65% of patients in India still diagnosed in late disease stage
“With highly advanced treatment modalities at our disposal and effective prognostic tests, we are in a situation where we can save over 90% of breast cancer patients or at least prolong their lives if patients present in early stages of the disease. For example, by using prognostic tests in the early disease stage, we can even help several patients avoid chemotherapy and mastectomy and reduce the ill effects of over-treatment."
"Unfortunately, almost 65% of breast cancers are diagnosed in this country in stage 3 and stage 4. Unless we improve our earl detection record, we will continue to have a large number of preventable breast cancer deaths,” said Dr Sameer.
What is breast-conserving surgery?
Patients diagnosed with stage one or two breast cancers can undergo breast-conserving surgery (BCS) rather than mastectomy, enabling them to save their breast. Another significant benefit is the possibility of avoiding aggressive treatment and chemotherapy.
“In women who have early breast cancer and less than three nodes or no nodes in the axilla region, prognostic tests such as CanAssist Breast can help predict whether giving systemic chemotherapy will benefit them or not. Thus, several patients with low risk of disease relapse can avoid chemotherapy, thereby saving its cost as well as side effects. However, due to delayed diagnosis, most patients fail to benefit from these prognostic tests,” added Dr Kaul.
Also Read: Second Opinion Is Best For Breast Cancer
Is COVID-19 further hampering timely diagnosis and care in a large number of patients?
With COVID-19 further delaying disease presentation in a large number of women and interrupting treatment in others, Dr Kaul is concerned that the pandemic may result in a higher breast cancer deaths over the next few years.
“The chaos and fear created by the pandemic have led to delays in diagnosis, delays in doing investigations as well as delayed disease presentation in a large number of patients. Many patients have also experienced an interruption in treatment. For patients living in rural areas, it has been particularly difficult to be able to reach an Oncologist on time. High-risk women have also avoided breast cancer screenings due to the fear of catching the virus in healthcare settings. All this is likely to hamper survival rates further. We urge women not to delay reporting any abnormal signs or symptoms due to the pandemic,” added Dr Kaul.
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