The Fact Maker

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Next-Generation Treatment Options for Advanced Breast Cancer Patients

Advancements in treatment options for breast cancer include safe, effective and innovative targeted therapies to benefit advanced stage breast cancer patients; increasing life expectancy and quality of life

Kochi: Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting females in India, accounting for 14 per cent of all cancers among women. 1 in 29 females are projected to develop breast cancer during their lifetime. Of these, more than 40% of Indian women are diagnosed with advanced (stage 3 or 4) breast cancer.  The ongoing pandemic posed various obstacles contributing to late diagnosis and poor treatment adherence, exacerbating challenges of limited screenings across rural and urban areas and poor health-seeking behaviours. Other challenges include social stigma, fear of cancer diagnosis or discussing the same with family members, shame over having a breast examination, and alternative priorities, which result in women neglecting their health and delaying screenings and care, resulting in lowered patient survival rates at advanced disease stages.

Dr. N.K. Warrier, Medical Director & Senior Consultant, Medical Oncologist , MVR Cancer. Centre and Research Institute, Calicut, Kerala said, “Breast cancer is increasingly affecting women in Kerala, with an annual incidence of 35 per 1,00,000 population. The disease affects Indians almost a decade earlier. Over the last two decades, disease incidence affecting affluent Kerala women has drastically changed, owing to unhealthy dietary habits including more fatty food, less physical exercise and greater mental stress. These factors have also affected women across all age groups. Since breast cancer is a hormone-dependent cancer, longer duration of exposure to female hormones, such as due to delayed menopause or early menstruation, can put women at higher risk of the disease. Other risk factors including delayed first childbirth (beyond 30 years), and the wide use of oral contraceptive pills over a long period of time. Addressing the high incidence in Kerala, breast cancer diagnosis has been streamlined in the region, and significant advancements have been made over the past two decades, resulting in the disease being diagnosed much earlier, as compared to the national average. This can be attributed to high awareness and female literacy in the region. Still, deaths resulting from breast cancer have not reduced drastically, due to inequities in healthcare. With the advancements in late- stage disease treatments such a molecular therapy there is now hope for breast cancer patients even in advanced stage cancer such as stage 3 & 4. These new treatment options give hope to patients who are estrogen receptor positive. As high as 80 to 90% of patients respond positively to such treatments, enabling them to lead normal lives with an enhanced quality, for many years.”

Many patients and their families believe that advanced breast cancer represents the end of life. A pattern observed across Indian women and their care takers, instead of spending on treatment for attaining an improved standard of care, patients and their care takers believe to save money for future of families.

Awareness of risk factors may prompt greater self-breast examinations as well as screening, which can enable timely disease detection. There are a variety of treatment options available for breast cancer based on the individual’s specific case, including surgery, or chemotherapy, or advanced targeted therapies and hormonal therapies, which can be adopted for advanced breast cancer cases as well, particularly to shrink the cancer or attack abnormal breast cancer cells without causing harm to normally functioning cells. Newer targeted therapy advancements have also limited adverse side effects compared to more traditional forms of treatment, such as chemotherapy, which can result in significant daily life compromises.

This October, which marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there is a dire need to raise awareness amongst patients and caregivers about the availability of treatment options even at advanced stages of the disease.

If you’re an advanced-stage breast cancer patient – discuss your treatment options with your oncologist to manage your disease, alleviate troubling symptoms and live with an enhanced quality of life and care.