Cancer Stigma:Developing World

Breast Cancer Stigma a Killer in Developing World

NICE (Reuters Health) - Stigma and ignorance about breast cancer are responsible for the unnecessary deaths of many women in developing countries, a Pakistani physician said on Monday.

Dr. Zeba Aziz and colleagues studied 286 cases of women who had been treated for breast cancer at Jinnah Hospital in Lahore, Pakistan.

At the European Society for Medical Oncology conference, she reported that among the women in the study, nearly three-quarters of those of high socioeconomic status were diagnosed when their breast cancer was in the early stage, whereas almost half of poorer women did not seek medical help until their cancer had reached an advanced stage.

The result was a 10-year survival rate of only 22% of women in the lower socioeconomic class, compared with 73% of those in the upper wage bracket.

Wealthy women's survival rate was equivalent to that for women in the Western world, but for the 38% of Pakistani families who live on less than the equivalent of a dollar a day, it was reminiscent of the distant past, she said.

"This is breast cancer as you might have seen it in the 18th or early 19th centuries; it is not something we should be seeing now," she told reporters at the conference.

"Poorer people are not seeking help and do not have easy access to care," she said. The problem is gross ignorance that results in women with breast cancer being stigmatized, and often abandoned by their families, she added.

"It's also a common misconception that breast cancer is infectious, and once a woman feels that she is very threatened," she said.

"We have seen women being isolated to the point of not being allowed to touch their children or use the household utensils."

[10/22/2002; Reuters Health]

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