Breast cancer is the most common cancer among urban Indian women and the second most common among rural women. Owing to the lack of awareness of the disease in India and in absence of affordable screening programmes, majority of breast cancers get detected at a relatively advanced stage, often leading to deaths. Since we are celebrating Durga Puja, which worships the epitome of power, it is only appropriate to do something for the real Durgas of our society — understand their health issues and address them so that they can lead a healthy life. With this thought, Sakal Social Foundation in association with Apollo Spectra Hospital, Aastha Foundation and Gokhale Constructions, is organising a Free Breast Cancer Check-up Camp, titled The Durga Project. The camp being organised on October 22 , between 11 am and 4 pm, will include free diagnostic screening for breast cancer using the latest diagnostic technology and procedures.
Apart from breast cancer, the other tests that will be conducted at the camp include, height/weight, blood pressure, sugar, eye-check-up, dental check-up and physiotherapy. Sakal, which is on a mission to adopt slums across Pune, is organising this free breast cancer screen test camp for underprivileged women.
The motto of the camp is to create awareness about breast cancer and prioritise women’s health by providing affordable diagnostic procedures and treatment. Dr Ojas Wadhwa and Dr Shekhar Kulkarni, renowned breast surgeons, will be conducting the camp at Kalavati Todkar Primary Health Centre, Khadiche Maidan in Somwar Peth.
Speaking about the increasing number of women suffering from breast cancer, Kulkarni reveals that out of 22 women, 1 is diagnosed with breast cancer. “Early detection is the key. The earlier the cancer is detected, the better will be cure and healing and it can even save life. Every woman who has attained the age of 25 should go for self examination every month, whereas those, who are 40 years and above, have to go for annual clinical examination and mammography,” he adds.
Ask him what is the probable reason for this increase in the number of breast cancer patients and he says there isn’t one known reason to medical science and that various factors like bad eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, adulteration in food and drinks can cause breast cancer in women. “Genetics and heredity are responsible for up to 5-10 per cent for breast cancer, but it is primarily due to ‘urbanisation’ and ‘Americanisation’ that cases of breast cancer amongst women are increasing at such an alarming rate. Wrong and unhealthy diet, consumption of packed and processed food and lack of exercise are some of the causes of breast cancer. While there is less awareness of health in the rural areas, the number of women suffering from breast cancer is more in the urban areas,” he quips.
There are a few misconceptions about breast cancer, one of them being that the disease is associated with irregular periods. Bunking the myth, Kulkarni, says that early menarche (the first occurrence of menstruation) and late menopause (a stage when a woman ceases to be fertile or menstruate) increase the risk of breast cancer in women. “Irregular periods are a cause of hormonal imbalance and other related issues; it isn’t associated with breast cancer. However, irregular menstruation cycles shouldn’t be ignored and must be treated,” he advises.
THE DURGA PROJECT
Talking about The Durga Project, Kulkarni who has been trying to create awareness about breast cancer and has been organising free camps since last two decades, says that at the camp, they are using a high quality tool that causes no pain during screening which happens because of compression and also negates the changes of errors in diagnosis.
Further discussing about the advancement in technology that improves health services for breast cancer patients, he says, “Such equipment has helped us offer these services for free, to those who cannot afford them. These days, women with even large lumps, don’t necessarily need to go for mastectomy and breast conservation can be done for those who choose to. They are treated with high quality medication, radiation and chemotherapy,” he adds
A lot of women celebrities are coming out and talking about their struggle with cancer and breast cancer, however many women, even today, feel shy to talk about it, partially due to shame associated with the body part and partly due to lack of awareness about the diseases. Kulkarni says that the situation is improving and a few women have begun to prioritise their well being. But we still have a long way to go, he adds. “Showing someone your breast and letting a stranger (doctor) touch it, is still a taboo in our society and perhaps this is one of the reasons why women have been holding themselves back from seeking medical help when it comes to breast cancer. But the positive side is, the situation is getting revolutionised. Now, I see hundreds of women standing in a queue to get themselves checked whenever I organise a camp. We have to understand that it is not always possible for them to come to you; we as doctors have to go to them and reach out to them in slums, workplaces, houses etc,” he adds.
Sharing some of the tips on how to keep breast cancer at bay, Kulkarni warns that women who consume alcohol or tobacco have higher chances of suffering from the ailment. He says, “While there are various things that you need to keep in mind, some of the important things are eating well, exercising and having a relaxed mind. Include at least five different fruits in your diet, cut down on fats and processed milk and milk products as obesity is one of the factors that can cause breast cancer. Proper exercise which is a combination of stretches, aerobics and muscle building, is absolutely important. And most importantly, mental peace is of utmost importance. Family members and friends must ensure that women around them don’t go through anxiety.”