How Covid-19 Has Affected Breast Cancer Screening

Late detection and hesitancy due to the pandemic are adding to the menace

How Covid-19 Has Affected Breast Cancer Screening

According to ICMR’s 2020 National Cancer Registry Programme Report, incidence of breast cancer in India is on the rise especially in metropolitan cities in the 30-40 age group. Lack of awareness has led to delay in diagnosis and has made it the major contributor to the mortality rates. 

Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the screening programs and medical facilities severely because of which majority of breast cancers are now diagnosed at a relatively advanced stage. It is high time to encourage women to seek knowledge, information, and any medical help for the condition. 

Breast cancer signs can be seen as: a lump in the breast, armpit area or around the collar bone, unexplained change in appearance of nipple or skin and change in the size or shape of the breast especially on the one side only, any discharge from nipple besides milk. You must self-examine these signs and if you see any of the above changes, bring them to your doctor's attention 

Risk factors to watch for 

Through years of medical research, several risk factors have been identified like: genetics and heredity, use of oral contraception, sedentary lifestyle, late or no pregnancy, early start to menstruation, late menopause, increasing obesity and stress among youngsters, poor lifestyle including excessive intake of alcohol and smoking. Avoiding these risk factors will reduce the chances of breast cancer. 

Unfortunately, risk factors such as genetics and heredity or family history are beyond our control, but this can be managed too. If you have a family history of breast cancer, for example, your mother or sister had it, then you can minimise its impact by detecting it as early as possible. 

Some suggestions 

Early detection offers the best protection against breast cancer. It allows to get the right treatment at the early stage where the treatment is known to show best results. 

Mammography is the current standard breast screening technique, but it is less effective for women under the age of 40 and cancer-prone dense breasts (that have relatively high amounts of glandular tissue and relatively low amounts of fatty breast tissue). 

For this, you can refer to contrast-enhanced (CE) digital mammography as it offers more accuracy diagnostic than mammography and ultrasound. 

You can also go for Ultrasound and MRIs. Microwave imaging (MI) techniques have been recently recommended as a safe and low-cost alternative approach to mammography for diagnosing breast cancer. 

  • For women under the age of 20, self-breast examination should be done monthly according to menstrual cycle
  • For women between the age of 20- 30 years, Clinical Breast Examination (CBE) should be done be done annually
  • For women between the age of 30-60 years CBE should be done Half-yearly 

Even though the COVID-19 cases appear to be rising significantly, women should not let their fear come in the way and stay in touch with the experts. 

(The writer is a Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology & Hematology, MAX Healthcare, Delhi. Views personal)