In this article, we discuss some reasons why women with breast cancer in India tend to ignore early symptoms and present with advanced disease.
63 year old Rajeshwari (name changed), a widow, didnt like to trouble her only son, especially when he was newly married. So, when she noticed a pea-sized hard lump in her left breast, she didn’t mention it to her family. After all, it was not causing her any problems. Maybe it would go away on its own. Six months later, she noticed that the lump had grown bigger, and her left nipple was pointing inwards – she was now getting worried. But she was too shy to talk to anyone. One morning, after another three months, she found her blouse slightly blood-stained – there was a small wound on the lump. This time she told her daughter-in-law, who immediately fixed a doctor’s appointment.
Rajeshwari was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer. She underwent chemotherapy for six months, followed by surgery, and then radiotherapy for six weeks. She then took daily hormone tablets for 5 years, which she completed 3 years ago. It’s almost nine years since her diagnosis, and she is healthy today. However, this does not mean that every woman with stage 3 breast cancer can be cured.
Why do women with breast cancer continue to come with advanced cancer in India?
“But there was no pain!” – this is the most common response whenever I ask my patients why they took so long to meet a doctor.
Other responses include:
“It was not causing me any trouble.”
“No one in my family has ever had breast cancer. So I didn’t think I could have it.”
“I was too shy to mention it to anyone.”
“I didn’t want to inconvenience my family.”
“I hoped it would just go away.”
In advanced countries, the majority of women with breast cancer are detected at an early stage, when the chances of cure are very high. In India, lack of awareness, as well as socio-economic circumstances prevent women from accessing healthcare at early stages of the disease.