Breast cancer awareness

Why Indian women are not ready to get checked for breast cancer


Though women are now aware about the word “breast cancer”, there has been no improvement in those volunteering for screening for the disease. This is not unique to India. The numbers are dismal even in developed countries such as USA and the UK. Based on the feedback from ladies of varying age groups, few common concerns were highlighted.

1) Lack of awareness

Most women don’t know there is an easy test to screen for breast cancer.

2) Lack of knowledge about the screening concept

Breast cancer starts developing the in the body about three to five years before it becomes symptomatic. The concept of screening, which is detecting cancer before symptoms, has still not percolated in the community. People still don’t get the point that you could have a disease growing in you, even if you don’t feel it.

3) Lack of concept of ongoing surveillance

The fact that each mammogram gives an accuracy for one year only and that yearly mammograms are required for ongoing surveillance against cancer is not adequately conveyed to public even by free screening campaigns. This leads to the false belief that breast cancer will never occur in future.

4) Lack of health education

The public trust their doctors. However, in the present scenario of clinical practice, doctors don’t have the time required for imparting health education in a busy practice. Available public health professionals are focused on nutrition, pregnancy care and child health. So, there is no source of information about cancer screening.

5) Cost concerns

People prioritise personal needs over health care unless they develop the disease. However, awareness about sugar, cholesterol, thyroid, etc. are gaining momentum. But these are simple blood tests that are relatively cheap. Mammograms cost INR 2000 and above, mainly because this test is done in low volumes and that’s what makes it expensive.

Many women volunteer during free mammogram campaigns, and they feel that anything related to cancer screening should be free.

6) Negative publicity regarding pain during screening

Breast tissue must be flattened on plastic plates to get clear X rays. If done by experts at a time well away from the time of monthly periods, the test is merely a minor discomfort and not at all painful. Feedback from more than 500 users has been conclusive about this.

7) Lack of motivation

The hassle of going to the lab is a put off. If a group of women is encouraged to undertake a mammogram, it is often successful. But individuals taking an initiative is rare, often postponing it indefinitely. Similarly, if the daughter is aware and motivates the mother, the latter often end up going for cancer screening.

8) “What if I am positive?” – The Ostrich attitude

“What I don’t know will not affect me” attitude is common all across the globe. Logic often takes second place to inner fear of discovering a disease with potential for surgery, chemotherapy, insurance and mental exhaustion. These emotions often over rule the simple logic that most of the time, cancer is completely curable if detected early.

9) Limited digital media access to target population who are above 40 years

Digital marketing campaigns focus on younger generation, who can then be used as leverage to motivate older relatives. Here, direct video messages from doctors are found to be useful, when shared across social media. Younger people can test their risk by checking their genes but undergoing a mammogram is always a good idea.

Over to you

All said and done, staying one step ahead of the disease is necessary. Whether you are 25 years old or turning 40, take necessary screenings or tests to ensure you are far away from getting breast cancer. Know your risk. Knowledge is power!

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About Dr. Sreehari K Pillai MD. MRCP

Dr. Sreehari K Pillai is a Specialist in Internal Medicine. He shares his knowledge on breast cancer, how you can prevent and cure it with his venture, the breast cancer screening app - Brexa.
View all posts by Dr. Sreehari K Pillai MD. MRCP →

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