Women in rural India delay seeking treatment for breast cancer mostly due to high costs of care, according to a study which found that many of them have not even heard of the deadly disease.
The study by Nitin Gangane, doctoral student at Umea University in Sweden, also found that most Indian women do not know how to do breast self-exams.
“Early detection may be crucial for successful breast cancer treatment. Therefore, it is important to influence women’s awareness of the symptoms and their attitudes towards treatment,” said Gangane.
“Illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and superstition regretfully lead to many women delaying their contact with the health care system too long,” he said.
Gangane performed two studies of women in the mainly rural-dominated district of Wardha in Maharashtra.
The first study consisted of a sample of 1,000 women interviewed about socioeconomic factors, knowledge of breast cancer and attitudes to breast self-examination. The second study was a patient study in the same district where 212 women with breast cancer were included. It turned out that hardly any women in the studies self-examined their breasts.
As many as 90 per cent of women in rural areas were unaware of the possibility of self-examination of their own breasts, the study found. Every third women had not heard of breast cancer at all. On the other hand, most of the women showed a great deal of interest in learning more, it found.
A delay for more than three months of seeking care was observed in almost half of the women, said Gangane.
The delay in diagnosis and treatment for more than twelve weeks was seen for 23 per cent of patients. The most common reason why women had not sought care earlier was that they had not felt any pain in the breast lump.
Incorrect initial diagnosis or late referral to examination was the most common cause for diagnostic delay, according to the study. Delayed treatment was mostly due to the high costs associated with treatment, it found. However, system delays for breast cancer patients associated with healthcare in the Indian countryside were not much higher than those reported from countries with good access to health care.
“It is urgent to have a national breast cancer program in India, while at local level, we need to raise awareness among women about breast cancer,” said Gangane.