Breast Cancer Awareness Month: The Fight against the Global Disease Continues Amidst a Pandemic By Bushra Satkhed

1 in every 8 women is likely to develop breast cancer during their lifetime as estimated by National Breast Cancer Foundation of the United States. Breast cancer is considered to be one of the most frequent forms of cancer among women and is the leading cause of death for women across the globe. According to the WHO, it impacts about 2.1 million women each year. The disease is growing particularly in developing countries where the majority of cases are diagnosed in later stages.

In 2006, after breast cancer claimed the life of Maina Pandit, husband Shankar Pandit and daughter Alka Shrikhande founded a non-profit organization in her honour known as Maina Foundation in Old Lyme town, Connecticut, with a mission of fighting breast cancer, raising awareness of the disease and providing proactive healthcare to women for leading long and healthy lives. 

“We have suffered, no doubt but it brought us the thought of how can we avoid this suffering for others.” Shankar Pandit, founding member at Maina Foundation said.

Established in 2008, dedicated to increasing awareness of breast cancer for women, Maina Foundation promotes early detection, teaching women self-breast examination. It funds treatment programs offering chemotherapy to women in need of financial assistance. By working at a grass root level, the foundation donates the fundraising earnings to hospitals and clinics for furthering the cause of early detection. For 12 years, the foundation has dedicated all the funds raised towards implementing collaborative programs in community hospitals, to reach women from low-income communities. It has close collaborations with Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai and campaigned with K.J.Somaiya Medical College, Mumbai for breast cancer awareness and screening. They have successfully taught over 3000 women about breast cancer and 150 women have benefitted from chemotherapy provided by the foundation’s funding programs. Through the dedication and contributions of time by executive members and volunteers, majority of the funds raised are donated. The programs have grown wider in scope and geography, including a new collaboration in New York City. 

It is significant for women to be self-aware about their bodies, know the symptoms of breast cancer and acquire knowledge as breast cancer is successfully and easily treated when in early stages. Talking about the right time to pay attention to your breasts for preventive measures, Dr. Anitha Shrikhande, scientific advisor at Maina Foundation- MD with a fellowship in Allergy and Immunology suggests that it is best for women to know their bodies well and around the time their menstrual cycles, they must take care of the changes their body undergoes.

“People are very scared to talk or hear about cancer. The first reaction they have is that they think they will never get cancer.” Dr. Padmavathi. Dyavarishetty, Associate Professor at K. J. Somaiya Hospital stated.

Media coverage in developing countries about this disease is vital as many people do not understand its importance. “Women in developing countries are affected the most as they are not so comfortable talking about their health especially breast-related problems.” Dr. Shrikhande stated. 

While men are at risk for breast cancer, it is very rare. It may occur due to genetic mutations or if they have a strong family history. However, women on the other hand have more chances of being diagnosed throughout their lifespan with this disease.

2020 has been a year of powerful reminders that we need to look out for each other and our choices should take action for the betterment of others. The same holds true for breast cancer. As we approach the end of International Breast cancer Awareness Month, an annual global campaign to increase awareness of the disease, it is necessary to display continuous support to breast cancer affected women, raising awareness about the disease, facilitating early detection and screening.