Early Detection

Breast Cancer- How one can help?

—– Dr Arnab Gupta, Consultant Surgical Oncologist & Director, Cancer Centre Welfare Home & Research Institute, Thakurpukur, Kolkata

Like any other cancer, when breast cancer strikes, it not only breaks down the psyche of the patient, but also of her family. It sounds synonymous to disfigurement, marital disharmony, death and so on. However, one must understand that it is one of those cancers which has got maximum probability of early detection being on the surface, and also high rate of cure if detected early. Also, in early stage, disfigurement is minimum as the breast can be saved with good cosmesis. In more advanced stages, the treatment becomes more complicated where a more radical surgery has to be done and has to be combined with additional treatments like Radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonbal therapy etc.

The messages for the general population are as follows:
1. One must do regular self-examination of breasts- atleast once every month after the completion of periods.
2. Not to ignore any lump in the breast. It is always advisable to get it checked by a specialist and if needed appropriate tests should be done.
3. The Doctors, especially in the villages, got to be more careful about the possibility of malignancies in the breast, and they should refer them to the specialists if there is any suspicion.
4. Not to worry if any needle or other biopsies are done. It does not cause spread of cancer, but helps in planning the treatment. Most of the times, the reports would be benign (innocent).
5. Breast cancer in stage I has 90% survival. Even in Stage III, it is upto 30- 40%. So one should not give up. It is better than Cardiac problems and many other ailments.
6. In Early Breast Cancer, breast can be conserved and there should not be any concern about disfigurement. Even if the breast has to be sacrificed, one can undergo Breast Reconstruction either immediately or after a few months.
7. The family, especially the husband for married woman, should be very supportive from the time of diagnosis to the end of treatment, and even beyond. The patient should be able to get rid off all her anxieties and have her confidence back. That makes the whole treatment procedure so much easier. Breast Cancer support groups are now available who can counsel the patient and her relative from the very beginning very effectively.
8. Even if the disease is in advanced stage where cure is not possible, good quality of life can be achieved for prolonged period with the help of Palliative Care groups.

The treatment can be expensive- it depends upon the stage of the disease and the kind of Health services the care is delivered. For daily wage earners the expense can be unbearable even in a Government hospital or NGO. In such cases, they tend to avoid any treatment and a potentially curable disease then becomes incurable and claims a life- in many cases that of a young mother, a wife or someone`s precious daughter.

That is where a charitable trust like Tanusree Dasgupta Trust (named after late Tanusree who succumbed to Breast cancer herself after a prolonged battle) can make so much of difference. Her family, through this trust, have fully supported the whole treatment of many underprivileged breast cancer patients who would have died from the disease otherwise. Our hospital has waived off the bed charges for all these patients.

Fortunately, all of them are doing very well so far and are back to their family life with smiling faces. Together we hope to make difference to many more lives suffering from this rather common cancer in women.

If detected early, the survival rate for breast cancer is as high as 90%. To put it in another way, that’s a better survival rate than common illnesses like tuberculosis etc.

Early detection can only happen if women go for screening examinations. The goal of screening exams for early breast cancer detection is to find cancers before they start to cause symptoms. Screening refers to tests and exams used to find a disease, such as cancer, in people who do not have any symptoms. Early detection means using an approach that allows earlier diagnosis of breast cancer than otherwise might have occurred.

Breast cancers that are found because they are causing symptoms tend to be larger and are more likely to have already spread beyond the breast. In contrast, breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be smaller and still confined to the breast. The size of a breast cancer and how far it has spread are some of the most important factors in predicting the prognosis (outlook) of a woman with this disease.

Most doctors feel that early detection tests for breast cancer save many thousands of lives each year, and that many more lives could be saved if even more women and their health care providers took advantage of these tests

There are some fantastic resources available on the internet on breast cancer. We urge people to read about this as much as possible – the more you know, the more you are prepared – the better are your chances.