THE death of 6,844 women of breast cancer, a hidden danger which accounts for the majority of untimely deaths of women aged between 15 and 45, in Bangladesh is worrying. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, 12,764 women are detected with breast cancer in Bangladesh every year, making it the leading dreadful cancer for women. Breast cancer has, in fact, become a growing concern for women’s health, in particular, and public health, in general. The World Health Organisation estimates about 1.38 million new breast cancer cases come up each year, resulting in 458,000 deaths. In Bangladesh, the rate of breast cancer occurrence is estimated to be 22.5 per 100,000 females and that the disease accounts for 21 per cent of deaths of women in the reproductive age range of 15–49 years. The mortality rate of breast cancer is, according to studies, much higher in developing and underdeveloped countries. Women from these countries, including Bangladesh, often seek medical assistance and diagnosis in late stages, making the recovery hard. Only 11 per cent of patients in Bangladesh are diagnosed and treated in early stages.
Women’s health and rights activists and physicians at a programme on Thursday that marked Breast Cancer Awareness Day, therefore, rightly highlighted the need for awareness among women of breast cancer. The rising mortality rate of women of breast cancer is due mainly to, as is said, a lack of awareness, improper and irregular screening, poor access to medical facilities, maltreatment and lack of motivation to go for institutional treatment and management. Moreover, poor socio-economic infrastructure and conservative atmosphere which generate sort of social stigma and instil fears among the patient keep women away from regular check-ups and screening which could have drastically reduced the death rate as early detection of breast cancer can help patients to recover completely. A study, based on new breast cancer cases in Bangladesh’s north, shows that 87 per cent of patients are diagnosed with breast cancer in stage III+, where cancer spreads to other organs to become virtually incurable. A disregard for women’s health, especially in rural areas and small towns, where a reductive perspective of women health prevails, has contributed to the worsening situation. Rare, poor and expensive options of treatment have also led women to succumb to the disease.
Realising the grave impact that the cancer has on women, the government and its agencies concerned must take a comprehensive plan. Collaboration between health agencies and hospitals in preparing epidemiological and strategic information on breast cancer should be the first step while wide awareness programmes must be prioritised. The government must also devise a strategy for cost-effective treatment to arrest the rising mortality rate of breast cancer.
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