70% of breast cancer patients still diagnosed in late stages: Dr S K Majumdar, AIIMS- 11102020

Bhubaneswar- Advanced treatments and new age prognostic tests are helping breast cancer patients live longer with better quality of life. However, 70% of breast cancer cases are still diagnosed in late stages resulting in a large burden of preventable deaths.

As we observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Oncologists are underlining the need to increase early stage diagnosis and make prognostic tests such as CanAssist Breast available to a larger number of patients.

“Advanced diagnostic and treatment tools have given us the ability to save and prolong the lives of a large number of breast cancer patientstoday. Prognostic tests such as CanAssist Breast can help early stage patients identify their risk of disease relapse and even avoid chemotherapy and over-treatment. However, delayed diagnosis remains a major challenge that prevents a majority of patients from accessing timely treatment and these advanced prognostic tools. Almost 70% of patients are still diagnosed in stages 3 and 4 when the disease has reached advanced stage,” said Dr.Saroj Kumar Das Majumdar, Medical Oncologist at AIIMS, Bhubaneswar.

Dr Majumdar estimates breast cancer incidence in Orissa has risen by almost 30% over the past 20 years with rising trend of disease being witnessed in women under 50 years of age primarily due to lifestyle changes such as unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, increasing incidence of smoking and drinking, use of multiple hormonal drugs as well as delayed childbirths.

“In recent years we have witnessed breast cancer affecting an increasing number of women under 50 years of age. The disease surge is particularly worrying in urban areas where unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyles, smoking and drinking are common. Higher age of childbirth and reduced breastfeeding are also contributory factors,” added Dr Majumdar.

Early detection of breast cancer has many benefits. Patients diagnosed with stage 1 or 2 breast cancer can undergo breast conserving surgery (BCS) and save the psychological distress of undergoing mastectomy. Another major benefit of early diagnosis is the possibility of avoiding aggressive treatment and chemotherapy.

“Early stage breast cancer patients are recommended the use of prognostic tests to direct the use of chemotherapy. A recurrence prediction or prognostic test may help some women diagnose early-stage disease and enable their doctors decide whether the cancer is likely to return and whether chemotherapy will benefit the patient. Based on these test results, low-risk patients have the opportunity to avoid chemotherapy, based on very small chances of the cancer returning. Indigenously developed CanAssist Breast is one such prognostic test that gives low or high risk stratification with a high degree of accuracy. Avoiding chemotherapy and aggressive treatment not only improves quality of life but also saves cost of treatment. These tests need to be made available to a larger number of patients. Government should also initiate measures to offer subsidized cancer treatment for the poor,” pointed Dr Majumdar.

Educating women about early detection and establishing the practice of annual screenings is the need of the hour. Covid 19 pandemic has led to delayed diagnosis and gap in patient visits also, which does not bode well for overall prognosis.

“Overall cancer related deaths have are increased due to delay in the treatment brought about by COVID 19 and its aftermath. We urge women not to delay reporting their symptoms or avoid their screenings for fear of the coronavirus pandemic. After hitting their 40s, women should go for annual disease screening,” added Dr Majumdar.

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