Breast Cancer in Pakistan – Top Surgeon Answers Your Questions
Breast Cancer in Pakistan
Among Asian countries, the highest incidence rate of breast cancer is in Pakistan. 1 in every 9 women is at risk of breast cancer in Pakistan. The key to survival is an early diagnosis. Breast cancer, on the other hand, frequently goes unnoticed in women until it is too late due to a lack of awareness and resources on the subject.
With the aim of raising breast cancer awareness in Pakistan, we took the most burning questions on the internet and got them answered by a top-tier breast surgeon.
Let’s start with their introduction.
Dr Muhammad Asad Parvaiz
FRCS, CCT (UK), Gold medalist, FACS
Fellowship Royal Marsden Hospital London
International Surgical Advisor (ISA) & Examiner, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon
Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital & Research Centre, Lahore
Dr Muhammad Asad Parvaiz is one of the best in his field, and we were lucky enough to get some of his valuable time.
Let’s get started then.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer occurs when some breast cells begin to grow abnormally. These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass. Cells may spread (metastasize) through the breast to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.
In Pakistan, every year, thousands of women lose their lives due to a lack of awareness. Several women do not share their health issues with others and are shy about going for breast examinations.
How common is breast cancer in Pakistan?
Pakistan has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in Asia. The latest available Global Cancer Observatory Report estimates 25,928 new cases of breast cancer in Pakistan during 2020 and 13,725 deaths. In the absence of a functional national cancer registry, although the actual figures may be different from these estimates, it is important to remember that these numbers represent women who are losing their lives. Early detection and access to treatment in a timely manner can save the lives of these women.
What causes breast cancer?
We do not know the exact cause, but researchers have identified hormonal, lifestyle, and environmental factors that may increase the risk of breast cancer. Some important risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Immediate family history
- Old age
- Sedentary lifestyle
- No pregnancy
- Not breastfeeding
- Late age at first child’s birth
- Early menarche
- Late menopause and
- Hormone pills (contraceptives/hormone replacement)
However, it is not clear why some people who have no risk factors develop cancer, yet other people with risk factors never do. It’s likely that breast cancer is caused by a complex interaction of genetic makeup and t environment.
What are the signs & symptoms of breast cancer?
Some of the most common symptoms of breast cancer are:
- A lump in the breast or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue.
- A change in breast size, shape, or appearance
- Fluid/blood flowing from the nipple
- Dimpling in breast skin
- In-drawing of the nipple, or
- A red-scaly skin
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
It is advisable that when someone feels any of the breast cancer symptoms, they should promptly consult a doctor. It is very rare that a doctor can tell for sure whether a breast lump is cancerous or benign by just examination. Hence, almost invariably, doctors would take help from investigations such as mammograms, ultrasound scans, and needle biopsies.
A big myth that needs to be clarified is the common belief that needle biopsy can spread breast cancer. There is no truth behind this conjecture. All diagnostic tests are approved by regulatory authorities and play a vital role in cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Is breast cancer treatable?
Substantial support for breast cancer awareness and research funding has helped create advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Survival rates have improved, and the number of deaths associated with this disease is steadily declining, largely due to factors such as early detection, a personalised approach to treatment, and a better understanding of the disease.
Breast cancer treatment is a combination of various therapies, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone treatment, and targeted therapies. Not every patient needs all of these, but it’s a careful combination of some of these treatment modalities that serves the purpose. They are usually administered sequentially.
Is mastectomy always necessary?
Mastectomy, the complete removal of breast tissue, has been the traditional treatment for all breast cancer patients in the last century. However, with advances in technology and healthcare, smaller lumpectomy operations (only removing cancerous lumps) are equally useful.
At Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, Lahore, we offer lumpectomy surgery to over 70% of breast cancer patients. The remaining 30%, who require mastectomy, are selectively offered breast reconstruction—where a new breast is surgically formed using breast implants or flaps (body’s own tissue transferred).
A recent study confirmed much better physical and psychological recovery in patients who underwent breast reconstruction.
Steps to Take Against Breast Cancer
- Early detection and timely treatment are the keys to survival for breast cancer patients.
- An annual mammogram from the age of 40 can be useful as some of the features of breast cancer can be picked up early, even before any lump forms.
- Encourage women to take five minutes for self-examination every month.
- If someone feels a breast lump or other symptoms, they should immediately consult a qualified doctor and insist on having tests done. No one should give false assurance, as sometimes a lump that does not feel like cancer has actually got cancer! So appropriate tests must be done to rule out cancer.
- Get timely access to appropriate breast cancer treatment.
Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital’s Fight Against Breast Cancer
At Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, Lahore and Peshawar, we provide holistic care to breast cancer patients while making sure that every patient feels comfortable. We provide state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment facilities, including chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy, and more advanced targeted treatments. Our surgical department offers all the latest surgical techniques for breast cancer, including mammoplasties, wire guided surgeries, sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB), fat transfer, breast reconstruction (implants & flaps), and nipple reconstruction.
All cancer patients at Shaukat Khanum are treated through the (MDT) approach, which is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). We stand along with breast cancer patients throughout their journey, safeguarding their physical as well as emotional needs, and our patients know that they are not alone in their fight against cancer.
Join Shaukat Khanum’s fight against breast cancer in Pakistan. Donate now to save lives.