* Women must not delay consultations or screenings due to the pandemic, caution experts
* Governments and healthcare providers must ensure serious diseases are not de-prioritized due to COVID 19
* Out of 13-15 lakh, total new cancers diagnosed in India every year, around 1 lakh are diagnosed in Karnataka alone
* Early diagnosis allows the use of prognostic tests such as CanAssist Breast and avoids over-treatment and chemotherapy in many cases
The COVID 19 pandemic and the subsequent de-prioritizing of other diseases have negatively impacted breast cancer care with new diagnoses being delayed and existing treatments interrupted. Oncologists are urging women not to delay reporting their symptoms or seeking breast cancer screening due to the fear of coronavirus infection.
As we observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Shekhar Patil, Medical Oncologist at HCG Bangalore, and Sri Shankara Hospital say that efforts are needed to educate patients, assure them of the safety of healthcare settings and ensure that serious diseases are not de-prioritized due to the ongoing pandemic.
“The Coronavirus outbreak particularly the lockdown and the subsequent months significantly impacted the detection of new breast cancer cases and also led to interruptions for people who were going under the treatment. New disease diagnoses have been evidently low in the six months since the lockdown. Many patients have delayed reporting their symptoms while many high-risk women have avoided crucial breast cancer screenings. It has been particularly tough for patients living in rural areas for whom traveling to nearby metros for consultation and treatment became extremely difficult. While we have managed to ensure that existing patients continue to get requisite care through virtual consultations, it is important that women do not delay visiting doctors out of the fear of a pandemic,” said Dr. Shekhar Patil.
Karnataka has a high burden of disease with breast cancer emerging as the most commonly found cancer in women in the state. The disease incidence has also markedly increased over the past two decades. Out of the 13-15 lakh total cases of cancers diagnosed in the country every year, around 1 lakh are from Karnataka alone. Out of this, 30% of patients are of breast cancer.
“Unfortunately, lack of awareness and regular screenings imply that most cancers are already diagnosed in later stages in India, resulting in low survival rates. Only 30% of breast cancer patients are currently diagnosed in stage 1 of the disease when treatment prognosis is good and chances of long-term survival are high. Since early diagnosis is the only way to save lives, it is important that people do not delay reporting their symptoms or seeking medical consultations for fear of catching the infection in healthcare settings. We urge women not to delay reporting of any abnormality or suspicious symptom,” added Dr. Patil.
Interestingly, 80% of breast cancer cases can be cured, if detected in the earliest stage of the disease.
“Early detection can also allow us to use prognostic tests and personalize treatments for patients based on their risk profile. Prognostic tests such as CanAssist Breast help physicians to analyze cancer relapse risk in patients which serves to reduce over-treatment. Patients with very low relapse risk can avoid invasive treatments as well as chemotherapy, resulting in better health outcomes. Personalizing treatment based on the disease progression and risk
also significantly reduces the cost of treatment,” said Dr. Patil
Urban lifestyles, unhealthy diets, an increase in obesity, lack of physical activity, high incidence of smoking, and drinking are factors responsible for the surge in breast cancer incidence in India. Women over 40 years of age are advised regular clinical screening for breast cancer.