Cancer

Breast cancer study in India shows how the country can avoid crisis

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IMAGE: Judith Fletcher Brown. view more

A new study examining breast cancer awareness in India has found that a lack of early diagnosis is leading the country towards an epidemic. They found that educating men could be key to encouraging women to seek help earlier.

The research, which is the first of its kind to look at breast cancer awareness in India, found that cultural and religious issues mean that women don’t access health services, are reluctant to consult male doctors, neglect their own health due to family obligations and are over-dependent on other family members to seek medical help, all of which causes delay in diagnosis.

The study found that traditional marketing campaigns don’t work for raising awareness of the disease and that community nurses are the most effective channel. These community nurses, who are trusted in the community and by male members in the family, represent one of the best channels of fostering a greater understanding by men about early symptoms and diagnosis. The study is published this week in the Journal of Business Research.

The research highlights the significance of the country’s rapid economic development, leading to greater urbanisation, which is leading some women towards a western lifestyle resulting in a rise of breast cancer rates. It describes the issue as one of the biggest health threats facing India today.

Judith Fletcher-Brown, from the University of Portsmouth, visited the country to explore the unique social, economic, cultural and institutional challenges in this emerging economy. She learned that in India’s cities and urban areas, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer among women. 70,218 Indian women died of breast cancer in 2012 and deaths from the disease are predicted to increase to 76,000 in 2020 with an average age of incidence shifting to 30 years from 50 years. Yet women seek medical care extremely late due to lack of awareness about self-examination and cultural barriers.

Judith interviewed several women by email about their experiences in order to elicit the most open answers to her questions. One participant said that even among friends they are too shy, although there is more openness between mothers and daughters.

Judith said: “India is still a patriarchal society and while women are now in responsible jobs and earning for their families, it’s the men who are still…