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Busting The Myths Around Breast Cancer [Breast Cancer Week Special]

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By Shraddha Sankhe:

In August, New York Times’ Op-Ed page covered a story about the popular novelist Fanny Burney who underwent a gruesome mastectomy surgery in 1811 without anesthesia – lying on an old mattress. Her doctor had detected breast cancer where she emerged a hero. Today, it may seem very shocking to read this. Breast cancer has spread its malignant tumor all over the world. In India every 22nd woman is detected with breast cancer, and every 4th affected person has no clue about her being affected with it.

Breast cancer is a case of cancer emerging in the breast tissue. Among the first noticeable signs of breast cancer are lump in the breast tissue and skin dimpling and it may or may not affect women with a family history of breast cancer. Busting the popular myth-it can occur in men too. A regular self-examination (checking the size, shape, skin texture, looking for possible lumps, any other abnormality) in consultation with the family doctor could help detect it in the earliest stages. Here we try and bust a few popular myths about the disease:

Can breast cancer cause death?

Yes. But conditionally.

“Older women with hormone-receptor-positive early breast cancer who had surgery (and possibly radiation and chemotherapy) and then took tamoxifen for 5 years were more likely to die from something OTHER THAN breast cancer (heart disease, for example). The women were followed for about 4 years after they stopped taking tamoxifen” says breastcancer.org report.

Can Men suffer from Breast Cancer too?

According to the an award winning women health resource Imaginis.com, though far less common than in women, it is possible for men to develop breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 2,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in men each year and approximately 450 men die from breast cancer annually. Male breast cancers account for approximately 1% of all breast cancer cases.

I have a healthy schedule, I cannot have Breast Cancer.

Wrong. No matter how healthy your living style is, breast cancer can hit you. Here are a few symptoms — developing which you must visit the doctor immediately:

  • swelling of all or part of the breast
  • skin irritation or dimpling
  • breast pain
  • nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
  • redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • a nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • a lump in the underarm area

Is there any specific test to detect breast cancer?

Yes.

Mammography is used as a test to detect breast cancer. “Mammography is the process of taking a special x-ray of the breast. Mammograms can find many breast cancers before one can feel them. They can also give the doctor important information about a breast lump that was found during a self examination or during a doctor’s visit.”-says a website essortment.com. This test came under a controversial scanner when it falsely detected cancers in younger women leading to anxiety and additional tests. There is a fiery debate going on among the global doctors arguing the efficiency of the test. Nevertheless, this test is considered to be the ‘gold standard’ which apparently, gives millions of women sleepless nights out of sheer anxiety.

Should we really worry about breast cancer?

Yes.

Breast cancer is killing our women’s health and tarnishing their ray of hope. It means we must pull up our socks. Basic awareness could tackle this problem in the initial stages. An open-minded conversation at home, with friends and a monthly self-check could pull down the breast cancer risk to a feeble number. Hardly any campaigns are seen being launched to fight diseases like these- on the national scale. Our women are honestly not willing to get themselves checked out of the perceived cultural upbringing. Concrete awareness programs are a solution to this.

Is breast cancer as a disease -hyped?

Yes.

Breast cancer in India could be just another disease affecting every 22nd woman. What is worrisome is that there is hardly any action/measure taken to tackle other medical issues affecting women. Few initiatives are taken to tackle the problems of rural and urban health but are we aping the west? Yes, to an extent. One must understand that the United States of America as a developed nation has few cases of death during childbirth and almost zero cases of say, dowry deaths. We, almost blatantly forget that we’re still poor in matters of public sanitation and rural health sector.

As the International Breast Cancer Week that just happened with a million online campaigns-including the Breast Cancer Walk (across the United States’ 9 major cities) and many more international initiatives to create awareness and give hope-we need to respect all the survivors of the gruesome disease-irrespective of nationalities and cultures. ‘Gruesome’ because it sometimes leads to removal of breast, mental trauma, economic upheaval and worse-a string of deadly possibilities. Spread the hope – spread the word. Voice yourself in the comment box below or tweet us at @YouthKiAwaaz. You can also email us at editor@youthkiawaaz.com.

The writer is the Mumbai Editor of Youth Ki Awaaz. You can catch her tweet @Shradzberry.

Image courtesy: http://www.beautips.info/health-tips/5-ways-to-prevent-breast-cancer/

You must be to comment.
  1. healthji

    Good information.
    Can check for more information on prevention of Breast Cancer at http://www.healthji.com/world-breast-cancer-month.php

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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