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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Breast Cancer: lets say the word and not hide from it!

News Desk |

What is your organization?

Pink Ribbon Pakistan National Breast Cancer Awareness Program is a non-funded, self-sustained initiative. We strive to significantly reduce breast cancer mortality in the country by creating widespread awareness through community engagement on prevention, early detection and increased access to treatment.

Since the beginning what are the achievements of the campaign so far?

For the achievements; the one big thing that I feel proud of is the elimination of taboos related to it. Although there is a lot of work to be done; to some extent breast cancer is no longer associated with women’s sexuality rather people have started seeing it like other diseases. This is very important as late diagnostic or deliberate hiding of this is one of the main reasons for the high death ratio.

On the other hand in collaboration with Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission; Pink Ribbon has provided free mammogram services to more than 5000 women. Through our youth program, we directly reached to 1.5 million young girls of colleges. And now we are about to achieve another milestone by constructing Pakistan’s first Dedicated Breast Cancer Hospital.      

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How has media treated this campaign?

Well, in the beginning, it was very disappointing. You will be surprised to know that electronic media refused to cover our launching ceremony in 2003. It was a time when the word “Breast” was not allowed to be spoken on any TV channels. But with continuous advocacy efforts with media higher-ups, gradually the scenario has changed and it took us almost 7 years. In the year 2010, we have seen a significant change in behaviour of media professionals. By now we have partnerships with some big media channels.

What is PINKtober?

Since October is known as Breast Cancer Awareness month all over the world, Pink Ribbon Pakistan celebrates the entire month as PINKtober, followed by an extensive youth awareness program. Different activities like seminars, walks, poster competitions, panel discussions material dissemination and other events are organized to highlight the issue. The focus of the youth programme is to spread early detection that increases more than 90% chances of survival. So far, the programme has reached out to more than 1.5 million girls through hundreds of academic institutions in almost 5 years.

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What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. They can even be painful.

Other than just a lump there can be some more symptoms of breast cancer which are very important to know. These symptoms include; swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt), skin irritation or dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel), breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction (turning inward), redness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin and nipple discharge (other than breast milk).

Which age group is most vulnerable?

Breast cancer risk rate begins to increase after the age of 40 and is highest in women between the ages of 55 to 70. Unfortunately in Pakistan chances of breast cancer in young girls are higher than rest of the world. The maiden age in Pakistan is 35 years but even young girls are being diagnosed with breast cancer.

What is the principal agent of this increasing ratio?

There are many factors which cause breast cancer in women such as family history of breast cancer, late age at menarche, consanguineous (within the family) marriages, body mass index that is equal to or greater than 30 (women who are overweight or obese), higher parity (number of times a female gives birth), late age of a woman at the time of first birth.

However, according to new research, it has been identified that some of our daily routine diet such as broiler chicken, white sugar, milk of cows injected with oxytocin and consuming carbonated soft drinks are also one of the major reason of increasing breast cancer in Pakistan. Seeking bad effects of oxytocin injection, Punjab government has recently banned the use of this injection.

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If we compare our country with rest of the world? Where are we exactly standing in dealing with cancer?

In comparison with developed countries, we are far behind in three principal factors. Firstly; still there is plenty of efforts required from public and private sectors to increase awareness about it. There are many countries with high risk of breast cancer, but mortality rate out there is less than Pakistan. Secondly; we lack the latest treatment technology.


Statistics of breast cancer? How many cases are reported per-year?

Pakistan has the highest rate of breast cancer for any Asian population in the world. It is the most frequent malignancy in women and accounts for (38.5 %) of all female cancers which are 90,000 new cases every year. About half (43.7 %) of all breast cancers are locally advanced accounting to 40,000 deaths per year. Unfortunately, 1 out of 9 women is at high risk of getting breast cancer in their lifespan as per this ratio almost 10.2 million women are at risk. 

Is there any specific region which is more affected by this disease?

Unfortunately, in Pakistan we don’t have any functional cancer registry at the federal or provincial level to identify the geographical distribution of cancer malignancy. However, among the cases reported in some of the largest cancer treatment hospitals, Punjab ranked at first followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at second.

The fact that the geographic area of residence of a vast majority of patients was Punjab can be explained as this province accounts for almost 50% of the total population of the country.

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What is the net effect of the recent campaign?

Like every year we ran extensive awareness campaigns in 2017 and fortunately got a very positive response from not only the general public but also from state departments and the corporate sector as well. This year for the first time in the history of Pakistan we managed to illuminate the Parliament House of Pakistan to sensitize member parliamentarians. Another landmark achievement of this year was the pink illumination of the historic Faysal Mosque in Islamabad. These illuminations helped us in sensitizing millions of people through wide coverage in print and electronic media.

Explain your Breast Cancer Hospital project.

After running an awareness campaign for more than a decade; we have decided to build Pakistan’s first dedicated breast cancer hospital in Lahore. The construction work has started in October 2017 and by now the construction of basement is done.

The total estimated cost of this project is 500 million whereas till now we have raised 60 million. When completed; this hospital would be one of the state of the art hospitals which will provide all free diagnostic and treatment facilities under one roof to poor breast cancer patients.

During our campaign, we have observed that women hesitate and even hide their disease from others because they don’t want to be examined by a male doctor. So this hospital will be an all-women hospital with highly qualified lady doctors and surgeons.