Don’t ignore early signs of breast cancer during COVID-19

When it comes to breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, this year has been a steep learning curve for cancer experts of the city. Experts opine that the decisions to delay the diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, under the duress of the pandemic, will have grave consequences for cancer mortality for years to come.

The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed brought about a massive challenge for the treatment of breast cancer patients. Experts say they are now witnessing more and more numbers of patients being diagnosed with breast cancer to be in the younger age groups. Moreover, breast cancer has become the commonest cancer in urban women in India and the second most common in rural women.

Dr Sudeep Gupta, medical oncologist and director of ACTREC, Mumbai, said they have seen a substantial increase in enquiries during this period and are urging women to keep checking their breasts and to contact their respective doctors.

“The earlier you are diagnosed, the greater the chances of successful treatment. Hospitals are doing everything possible to make them safe and accessible to everyone who needs them as delay in breast cancer screenings and treatment could lead to a higher mortality rate in the coming decade,” he said.

Dr Gupta said breast cancer which is diagnosed early is typically easier to treat and offers the best survival chances. Regular screening for breast cancer, including annual mammograms after the age of 40 and self-breast exams after the age of 30 is important for everyone.

“During this testing time of COVID-19, experts are offering phone and online video consultations, where they are going through the patient’s symptoms and deciding plans of action. So, if your annual mammogram was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, experts urge you to call your doctor and reschedule it,” he added.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the numbers are expected to rise dramatically by 2030, due to increased urbanisation and changing lifestyles. A sedentary lifestyle coupled with junk food and smoking is some of the causes of the rise. Besides, family history and genetics do play a role in determining a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Women are considered to have high risk if they have a family history of breast cancer or are over the age of 50.

“Touch to see if you can feel anything unusual; look for any changes, and check any changes with your doctor. Remember to include all breast tissue when you’re checking yourself, including the nipple area, up to the armpits and up to the collarbone,” said Dr Gupta.

Patients diagnosed with breast cancer need planned and systemic therapy, which is personalised based on their cancer condition. The quicker people seek medical advice the faster the return to wellness.

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