Addressing breast cancer in Bangladesh is becoming tougher due to a lack of a central database, mass awareness and long-rooted sociocultural and family traditions, according to experts.
“We have no reliable statistics on how many females exactly die of breast cancer every year as we have no central database,” Tasmia Tahmid, breast cancer expert and head surgeon at a breast care medical facility in the capital of Dhaka, told Anadolu Agency.
Referring to the database inoculation of the global coronavirus pandemic, she urged authorities to immediately launch a system to centrally record all data related to breast cancer patients “as this is very important for a nation to ensure health services for mothers.”
More than 13,000 women in Bangladesh are infected with breast cancer and over 7,000 die every year, according to data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
A voluntary institute, Bangladesh Cancer Aid Trust, underlines breast cancer as the most common kind of cancer in women in the overcrowded south Asian nation of 170 million with almost 20 per 100,000 women diagnosed with the disease.
“Still now our diagnosis is not in some cases international standard. It varies from place to place. In some cases, we use the Fine-Needle Aspiration Cytology (FNAC) system and in other cases, we use the Core Biopsy system in the treatment of breast cancer,” said Tahmid.
She added that the number of patients in Bangladesh has been rapidly increasing in recent years though awareness has increased slightly.
But due to a common shyness and other sociocultural and domestic reasons, most women go to doctors late and in the meantime, the disease enters a second or third stage and treatment becomes complicated and costly.
“So much awareness is a must that this is a very common disease and it’s not shameful at all for any female,” she said. “There is a common problem in both rural and urban areas of the country that most of the females do not even believe that they are breast cancer patients in fear of social stigma."
Many others also get village treatment citing better treatment as very expensive and beyond their means.
- Mental and financial supports
Shahnaj Khanam, 30, was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2016 when she was unmarried and faced trauma from family and society.
“I worked at a private company at that time and my family and relatives blamed me for the disease,” she said, adding that luckily she was helped by a gentleman who is now her husband.
Underlining her case as very exceptional, Khanam added: “When my treatment was running and I was being served chemotherapy, I lost all of my hair, eyebrow and eyelids and I was turned fully black. None of my familiar people knew me at that time. In such a critical period of my life, my husband married me and helped me to complete my treatment.”
She said during her four years of treatment she met breast cancer patients whose husbands left them and got married to others. “We have a common perception in our country that a breast cancer patient can’t have physical relations with husband and thus there is a great family crisis.”
“Now I am fully cured and I just go to the hospital for regular checkups,” Khanam said, adding that mental and financial support for every patient is needed.
Khanam has spent nearly Bangladeshi Taka 800,000 ($ 9,500) on treatment, including 16 chemotherapies, 21 radiotherapies and others.
“Now I am planning to conceive a baby and dream to flourish my life like other females,” she said.
More than five years ago, Asma Begum, 40, was diagnosed when she had a 10-month-old breastfeeding baby.
“As our financial condition was good and I took treatment properly, I did not face any serious problem. But in the last five years I had to spend above 2 million Taka ($24,000) in treating my disease,” she said.
Tens of thousands of families in Bangladesh have lost property in treating breast cancer.
Young girls are suffering from frustration after being diagnosed, worrying about their future.
- Mass awareness and research
Former professor at the National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital in Bangladesh, M Mizanur Rahman, said no full-fledged institutional research has been conducted in Bangladesh on breast cancer.
“Unfortunately, in my 40 years of the profession, I have hardly seen any state-patronization to young medical students to go abroad for research and higher education. So the government must increase the budget in medical research to promote more highly skilled physicians,” Rahman told Anadolu Agency.
Citing late marriage, not conceiving for long; obesity; the tendency to take medicine in hopes of getting pregnant quickly, especially among expatriates, child marriage and reluctance to breastfeeding as common risk factors in Bangladesh and other parts of the world, he said that due to multifarious reasons and the changing of food and lifestyles due to rapid urbanization, there is a new dimension in breast cancer.
“We need more research and study on this disease for greater interest to build a nation with sound mothers,” he said and called on the government to adopt a long-term combined measure to address the disease.