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Women Typically Disregard Their Health, But This Is Changing Now: Dr Shwetha Shah On Breast Cancer Prevalence

Breast cancer is an epidemic that is affecting people around the world, including India. Cancer can be described metaphorically as a condition in which a person’s body turns against them. It is characterised by the proliferation of abnormal tumour cells that divide, spread, and invade other tissues and organs, interfering with their normal function. Breast cancer is where abnormal tumour cells grow in the breast nipples, lobules (the gland that produces milk), ducts (which carry milk to the lobules), and connective tissue.

According to a recent report by the National Cancer Registry Programme and ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research), breast cancer is the most reported cancer in India. It is also one of the leading causes of mortality amongst the female population. ICMR also reports a 12% rise in cancer rates in the next five years. CancerMitr team conversed with gynaecologist Dr Shwetha Shah to learn more about the reasons behind the high numbers and how aware women are of this ailment. Dr Shwetha Shah recently collaborated with CancerMitr for a women’s health awareness session at Nexus Malls. On the occasion of International Women’s Day week, Nexus Malls focussed on their women employees’ health, including their vulnerability to breast cancer. Dr Shwetha Shah conducted an awareness session for all women employees of Nexus Malls, especially blue-collar workers. She shares her experiences with CancerMitr.

How did your collaboration with CancerMitr start?

I share my expertise actively on my Instagram page. After seeing my work on social media, the CancerMitr team got in touch with me. We have previously worked together on significant projects, most notably an awareness session at KMCT. Then, we worked on a breast and oral cancer awareness session in Nexus Malls.

What was your experience at Nexus like?

It was a memorable experience. We conducted sessions in both Nexus Seawoods and Nexus’s head office in Mumbai, both locations had a very enthusiastic and curious audience. The management working at Nexus was also very supportive and provided the right setting and atmosphere. Working with CancerMitr has always been fruitful, and I look forward to more.

How did the female employees at Nexus respond to information related to cancer?

I have noticed how differently the audience responded to the information we provided. Blue-collar workers didn’t interact much because they were given a lot of new information. But the employees working at the head office were very interactive because they were more educated. I had a fruitful one-to-one interaction with the Nexus Malls’ head office employees. They were curious and had a lot of knowledge about cancer and women’s health. 
It also shows how education broadens a person’s mind and brings them out of the social barriers that stop them from talking about their health and well-being. Our work with blue-collar workers marks the beginning of our long journey in spreading awareness.

Do you see a lot of breast cancer patients in your practice?

Yes absolutely. My colleagues frequently refer patients with specific gynaecological symptoms to me. In my experience and interactions, I’ve noticed a higher prevalence of breast cancer among young women than older women. Most breast cancers are found in women who are older than 50 years of age. But I have worked with patients who are as young as 30-35 years of age.

A study published in PubMed central mentioned that breast cancer is the most reported cancer in India. What reason is behind such a high number, especially amongst younger women?

There are a lot of reasons behind the prevalence of breast cancer among younger women. Lifestyle and habits like prolonged sitting have led to obesity and health issues among women. Obesity and hypertension are linked to cancer. In addition, unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption affect your body and increase cancer risk. But these are all universally known facts. But, one factor that plays a critical role in the prevalence of breast cancer is family history. Most breast cancer patients I interact with have someone in their family with breast cancer. Certain gene mutations, notably the BRCA1 and BRCA2, increase breast cancer risk.  However, it is important to know that cancer is an unpredictable disease, but it is not inevitable. People should be aware, but they shouldn’t fear for the rest of their lives.

Several studies, including a report by National Cancer Registry Programme, mentioned how mortality due to breast cancer is higher in India compared to the U.S. What is the reason behind low survival rates?

Women typically disregard their health and put everyone else around them first. That is what we have seen for years. At the same time, a lot of stigma and shame are associated with women’s healthcare. Women are often shamed for visiting a gynaecologist. Many parents also don’t take their daughters to the doctor because they fear uncomfortable conversations with people in their family and friends circle. Because of that, they ignore the initial signs and symptoms of breast, oral, cervical, or uterine cancer. As a result, it is often too late for an effective treatment when they get diagnosed. Thankfully, it is changing a lot now due to better education and more awareness. 
Women are seeking more information on how to care for themselves and put themselves first. Communities are stronger if their women are strong and healthy.

While working as a gynaecologist, do you recommend patients undergo screening for cancer?

Yes, of course. I recommend various tests to patients exhibiting symptoms that suggest diseases or abnormalities, including possible breast, uterine or cervical cancer.

What is your general opinion about early screening and testing for breast cancer?

It is very important. In fact, early screening is what saves lives because we can detect cancer in its initial stages, which makes it easy to treat. So, I encourage my patients to undergo early screening if symptoms suggest possible cancer. 
As I mentioned, now there is better awareness, and women are well-educated. Women sit down with me for one-to-one discussions on not just cancer but various topics related to their health. It is a great sign, and that is what I experienced during the Nexus Malls event, where they collaborated with CancerMitr!

Do you have a lump in your breasts? Don't wait any longer.​

Schedule a breast cancer screening for yourself. Early detection and screening lead to more effective therapy and increased survival rates. CancerMitr provides a variety of early screening and testing packages. We take a comprehensive approach to all cancers, implementing effective measures to ensure a pleasant and stress-free life from discovery to recovery. Check out our website for more information about our work. 

Dr Shweta Shah

Obstetrician-Gynecologist (OBGYN)
● Hysteroscopy | Laparoscopy Surgeon.

Dr Shweta Shah is a renowned gynaecologist and obstetrician in Mumbai, known for her dedication and result-oriented care. She customises treatment plans for each patient’s specific needs. She received her medical training in Nashik and New Delhi. In the year 2020, she also completed her Fellowship in Minimal Invasive Surgery at Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences.

You can find her profile on social media, where she describes herself as the lover of two G’s; gynaecology and guitar.