Breast Cancer Awareness and Education Needed in Pakistan

August 2, 2012

One-fifth of practitioners in Pakistan didn’t think breast cancer occurred there, researchers found. Education is needed, they say, for early detection.

Providing education about breast cancer occurrence, detection, and screening practices to women and general practitioners in Pakistan would allow for earlier detection and treatment, said researchers in an article published in the August issue of Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Pakistan and is usually diagnosed in later stages and often at a younger age compared with women in the West. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass., and Indus Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, examined the knowledge of and attitude towards breast cancer, as well as prevention and screening.

The researchers surveyed 200 women, aged 24 to 63, and 100 general practitioners (49 percent men, 51 percent women) who had been practicing between one and 40 years (mean 12 years). Regardless of how educated the women were, their interest in early detection of breast cancer was high. The actual knowledge of incidence, diagnosis, and treatment was proportionate to their educational level, researchers found.

Only 16 percent of the women had ever undergone a clinical breast examination and only 9 percent had undergone a mammogram.

While most practitioners understood the major risk factors and the importance of early detection, 20 percent did not believe that breast cancer occurred in Pakistan. In addition, 30 percent believed that breast cancer is a fatal disease.

“Breast cancer care in limited-resource countries generally suffers because of multiple obstacles, including a lack of recognition of breast cancer as a public health priority, a shortage of trained healthcare workers, and social or cultural barriers,” said Sughra Raza, MD, a co-author of the study. “An improved understanding of existing obstacles in breast cancer care is critical to identify those factors that may be correctable and thereby devise effective interventions for improving early breast cancer detection and treatment in disadvantaged countries.”

There was a disparity in the rate of clinical breast examinations performed by male and female general practitioners. Only 24 percent of males were likely to perform the exam compared with 98 percent of female practitioners.

Raza concluded, “Awareness and educational activities, including training female clinical health workers to perform clinical breast exams, will be beneficial as we begin instituting awareness, detection, and treatment programs in the face of a rapidly rising incidence and late-stage detection of breast cancer in Pakistan.”