Coimbatore: A recent data presented by the Union health minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, in reply to a question in Parliament on December 13 shows that the estimated number of breast cancer cases in Tamil Nadu has been steadily increasing by 4% every year.
As per the data, taken from the National Cancer Registry Programme, Tamil Nadu is estimated to have the fifth highest number of breast cancer cases in the country. It is the only state in South India to feature in the top five list.
Oncologists say that there seems to be no specific reason for Tamil Nadu’s numbers to be high. But attribute the increase to multiple factors – increasing obesity rates, increasing infertility rates among women and mutations of BRCA genes affecting more Indians. They say better reporting and diagnosis of cases could also lead to the number.
As per the registry, Tamil Nadu had around 10,269 breast cancer cases in 2018. In 2016, the state had 9,486 cases, which went up to 9,870 in 2017.
Dr R Swaminathan, who heads the Madras Metropolitan Cancer Registry in Adyar Cancer Institute and contributed to the National Cancer Registry’s data, confirms the data.
“In Chennai alone, the incidence of breast cancer in every 1 lakh women is increasing by 2%. Breast cancer has been increasing every year,” he says.
Tamil Nadu’s numbers are only lower than Uttar Pradesh, which had the highest number of estimated cases at 24,181, Maharashtra 16,358 cases, West Bengal 12,234 cases and Bihar 11,378 cases. While Karnataka’s figures are at least 10% lower than Tamil Nadu’s figures, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala’s estimates in 2018 are at least 40% lower.
“The Globocan 2018 data also found breast cancer to be the most common form of cancer in Tamil Nadu, and we think multiple factors contribute to this largely hormone driven cancer,” says consultant oncologist and associate professor at PSG Hospitals, Dr Kiruba Shankar.
“There are studies that show Tamil Nadu has high rates of obesity due to the growing affinity towards fast food and junk food. This eventually affects your hormones,” Dr Shankar says.
Growing rates of infertility and more people opting for hormone replacement therapy are also among the reasons for high breast cancer cases, say doctors. “Breast cancer is of three types and mainly hormone driven. We believe that increased exposure to estrogen in a woman’s lifestyle can increase risks. This happens due to too many menstrual cycles. Not having children or not breast feeding, and late menopause could also lead to increase in breast cancer,” says director of Sri Ramakrishna Institute of Oncology and Research, Coimbatore, Dr P Guhan.
Oncologists say what is more worrying is that breast cancer is affecting women in late twenties and early thirties, who ignore it as screening for breast cancer is usually advocated only after 40. “Even in the West, breast cancer is seen more in women’s end of fifth decade and sixth decade, but in India we are seeing a majority in the fifth decade, and number of women getting it in their third and fourth decade itself. So, more women should do self-examinations after they turn 30 and importantly approach at least their family doctor if they notice any abnormal swelling, lump or nipple discharge,” says Dr P Guhan.
However, doctors say all the above issues are present in other states too. “It could be a hereditary factor with many women today getting the gene mutation from their mothers or grandmothers, but we don’t see too many breast cancer cases due to this in Tamil Nadu. It could be better reporting of cases and more diagnosis also contributing to the numbers,” says Chennai-based oncology consultant Dr Bellaramine.-Times Of India