In 2018, 1.6 lakh new cases of breast cancer were reported in India. India stands at the third position in global counting of cancer cases. The two common types of cancers found in Indian women are breast cancer and cervical cancer. Cancer is a life-threatening disease but can be prevented if detected at an early stage. Therefore, yearly cancer screening test is very important. Yearly screenings not only help in reducing the mortality rate but also but also makes the populace aware of their health status at all times. This in fact is much needed as one’s own health is largely ignored in a country like ours until there are worrying symptoms or signs .
This is the most common type of cancer found in Indian women. It accounts for 27% of all cancers affecting women in India. Reportedly, 1 in 28 women may develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. The ratio is high in urban areas, it is about 1 in 22 women. But, in the rural areas, the ratio is lower with 1 in 60 women at risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases gradually as women age.
Some common symptoms that are ignored are:
- Lump in armpits or breasts
- Inward turned nipples
- Sore nipples or breasts
- Discharge from nipples
- Change in the shape & size of the nipples or breasts
- Quit alcohol and smoking as it increases the risk of breast cancer
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Exercise regularly
- Breast-feed your child
- Avoid taking hormone therapy if possible
- Avoid radiation and pollution exposure
- Do self-examination for breast at least once in a month.
- Women over the age of 40 years should consider getting checked annually for breast cancer. Breast cancer is treatable if detected at an early stage.
The second most common cancer in Indian women is cervical cancer. Reportedly, every year around 77,300 new cases arise. It account for almost 23% of all cancer cases in Indian women. This cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus which can be prevented with vaccination. Other than HPV, cervical cancer may occur due to smoking, malnutrition, genital infection, multiple pregnancies, weakened immune system, long term use of contraceptive pills, multiple sexual partners, AIDS or HIV.
Unfortunately, cervical cancer does not show any symptoms in the early stage. In advanced stages, the following symptoms may occur:
- Vaginal discharge
- Pain during sex
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding during sex
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding after menopause or between period cycle
- Pelvic pain
- Get vaccinated for HPV
- Practice safe sex
- Quit smoking & alcohol
- Maintain hygiene
- Eat a healthy diet
- Consider getting checked annually
Importance of early screening:
Chances of cancer survival are close to 88% if detected early in stage-1. Cancer is a condition that does not show any symptoms at the early stages and by the time symptoms develop, the patient already reaches stage 2 or 3 where successful treatment is difficult. With annual screening, the chances of detecting cancer at stage-1 are high.
In conclusion, to reduce the nation’s cancer burden, especially in women, a twin fold strategy is needed. Firstly, we must focus on raising cancer awareness and talking openly about breast & cervix cancer. The taboos associated with women health issues must be eradicated first and only then we can move towards educating ourselves further and adopting annual health screenings as a part of our lifestyle.