'Breast cancer survival rates low in rural India'

Breast cancer

Early breast cancer diagnosis and survival rates are very low among women living in rural India compared to those in developed nations, a new study has claimed.

Researchers said women in developed countries survive roughly 10 years longer after a breast cancer diagnosis compared to women in poor-to-middle-income countries.

The study by University of Michigan demonstrates the lack of access to good health care faced by women in poor countries, said the study's principal investigator Rajesh Balkrishnan, an associate professor at the U-M schools of Pharmacy and Public Health.

Early diagnosis and sustained treatment were the biggest hurdles and also the main indicators of patient survival, he said.

Balkrishnan and colleagues looked at roughly 300 women in the southern rural district of Udupi, India. Patients received one of three chemotherapy drug regimens depending on the stage of cancer.

Only about 27 per cent of patients were diagnosed in the early stages of cancer, and they survived an average of 11 years. The majority of patients were diagnosed in later or advanced stages, and they survived from about one to two-and-a-half years after diagnosis and treatment.

Many diagnoses occur at later stages because screening isn't available in those rural areas, Balkrishnan said. Fear, poverty and ignorance about breast cancer also delay treatment and diagnosis.

And, if the diagnosis does come early, access and use of breast cancer chemotherapy treatments -- even the generic inexpensive options -- aren't readily available. Only the latest-stage patients receive the most current and expensive treatments, said Balkrishnan.

"I think if the tumour is diagnosed early and treated aggressively, a patient can expect an additional decade of survival. But access and adherence to optimal treatment remains very difficult for women in poorer countries," Balkrishnan said in a statement.

Breast cancer is a growing problem in India, with estimates as high as 1 in 22 women predicted to develop the disease. While the breast cancer rate is much higher in the United States at 1 in 8 women, the survival rate is also much higher, researchers said.

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