The rate of breast cancer occurrence is alarmingly high in Pakistan. The more disturbing aspect of this disease in our country is that despite the general notion that only older women are likely to fall victim to it, the truth is that more and more young girls and women are also being diagnosed.
Though any type of cancer is an extremely challenging and traumatic experience, breast cancer has the added problems of inducing fears of disfigurement and cultural taboo in a society like ours which is conservative to the point of inconvenience.
The most important thing to know is that since cancer is not completely curable to the point where your doctor could tell you with confidence that it will never recur, the only and the best method of vigilance is regular self examination and visits to the doctor in case of any suspicious or painful changes in your body. Early detection is extremely important and has an immense impact on the cure rate.
Information and awareness are crucial. Misconceptions are rampant. For example, a lot of people are ignorant of the fact that males may also fall prey to breast cancer. Another misconception is that only those women develop cancer who do not breast-feed their babies. It is important to understand what cancer is. Not every tumor is an indication of cancer. A cancer is a malignant tumor, meaning an abnormal growth of unhealthy cells which replicate without check until they destroy the healthy cells surrounding them.
In Pakistan, cultural taboos are a huge obstacle to fighting breast cancer. There are women who spend years with lumps and tumors without even sharing the problem with their family because they have been brought up with an unhealthy and detrimental notion of shame and modesty. Then there are those women and their male family members who would rather see the disease progress then go to see a male doctor. It is up to the men in the family, the fathers, husbands and brothers, who should reassure their women that their health is far more superior to any cultural taboo. In any kind of surgical procedure, a certain amount of physical exposure is inavoidable and it is impossible to provide as many female doctors as there are patients.
Luckily, finding information is not so difficult today if there is the will to seek it. There are organizations like the Pink Ribbon (www.pinkribbon.org.pk) which visit universities and run their awareness campaigns so that young students may be alerted to the danger that they and other women in their family are exposed to.
Finally, it is extremely important for the men to extend support to patients of breast cancer. A father, a brother or a husband can make the difference between life and death by being encouraging and friendly with the women of the family. For survivors of cancer, who have undergone surgical procedures or painful chemotherapy, emotional support is very important because physical disfigurement has a huge psychological effect on woman who may deem herself undesirable or less feminine as a result. It is only with the help of a support system at home and in the health sector that women can find the courage to fight this horrific disease.