In India, more than 1.3 million new cases of cancer and more than 8.5 lakh fatalities from the disease are estimated to occur every year. Breast and cervical cancer have been identified as major health catastrophes in disrupting India’s national health profile. Both have had long-term consequences on the financial, physical, and mental health of our economy.
Cancer is a high-cost ailment, and a major monetary concern for average Indian households who finance cancer hospitalization through either borrowing, the sale of assets, or contributions from friends and relatives. Through this article, we would like to draw attention to the most common cancers related to Indian women causing premature mortality and the lost productive years of life, as compared to developed countries.
Why women must not ignore early screening
A host of factors like lack of awareness, low literacy level, social inequality, stigma, and poverty, are primarily responsible for the rising number of cancer cases in India. Breast cancer is the leading and cervical cancer is the second most common cancer amongst women in India. However, the awareness levels amongst the Indian community for both are very low. Educating women about the early signs and symptoms of cancer and the importance of early detection can help reduce the care gap, which can lead to timely prevention.
An essential component in general healthcare is cancer screening. It is the best method to survive cancer early on through detection and eradicating it entirely from the body before the malignant cells spread to other parts of the body. However, on the contrary, many Indian women are unaware of the importance of regular screenings, which can result in delayed diagnosis and late treatment.
Early diagnosis has become simpler and easier
Today several screening methodologies have evolved, keeping a woman’s comfort at the core. Self-sampling methods have given the flexibility of home healthcare for women who need comfort and privacy for self-examination or sample collection, without the need for expert supervision. However, it is imperative for women to understand how to perform self-examination correctly, including knowing the proper technique, what to look for, and when to reach out to a doctor. Self-examination, such as performing breast self-exams, can help women become familiar with their bodies and identify any changes or abnormalities that may be indicative of cancer.
Similarly, the HPV DNA test is the most efficient way forward for detecting high-risk genotypes of cervical cancer in the asymptomatic stage. For years, several agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have emphasized the importance of primary screening to diagnose and treat pre-cancerous cells, when treatment is most effective and survival rates are highest. The World Health Organisation has also advocated the need for screening as part of its global strategy of 90:70:90 for cervical cancer elimination by 2030, and necessary for attaining SDG goals.
Let us make a commitment to educating Indian women about the importance of regular cancer screenings and closing the care gap for cancer patients in India. This can be done through mass awareness campaigns teaching women about the signs and symptoms of cancer, the value of routine screenings, and the range of treatment choices. Encouraging women to maintain a healthy lifestyle to lower the risks of cancer, and providing support networks, such as counselling and peer support groups, can help women manage the physical, emotional, and financial impacts of cancer. By taking these steps, it is possible to raise awareness and help women fight back against cancer in Indian women.
The article is contributed by Dr. V Ravi, Virologist and Head of Research and Development, Tata Medical and Diagnostics.