Treatment of Breast Cancer in Pakistan

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The most frequently diagnosed cancer among women around the world. The leading cause of cancer deaths in women around the world. Affecting one in nine women in Pakistan, breast cancer is a harrowing reality for many women as we speak. We asses breast cancer treatment options available in Pakistan and technological developments that have taken place in the past few years.

Risk Factors:

The list of established risk factors for having breast cancer is long and predominantly includes hormonal factors such as early onset of menstruation, not having children and not breast feeding. But sadly, this list doesn’t guarantee immunity and breast cancer has not only been reported in women of all age groups, races and reproductive histories but can also occur in men.

A lot of research has been performed to identify ways of early detection as the survival rate increases if the cancer is diagnosed in its early stages. Women all over the world are taught the importance of self-breast examinations and timely biopsies of suspicious lumps and bumps. But once diagnosed, the treatment regime is long and tiresome, with no guarantee of success.

Treatment Options:

Conventional methods of treating breast cancer can be grouped into four main categories : Surgery, Radiotherapy, Chemotherapy and Hormone Treatment. These treatments are selected individually or in combination, depending on the size, site and grade of the tumor. Another major factor which helps decide the treatment regime is a histopathology test which determines whether the tumor has hormonal receptors.

Surgery involves physical removal of the tumor mass and any adjoining tissue which has been microscopically infiltrated by tumor cells.

In Radiotherapy, the tumor mass is exposed to high levels of radiation and does not have side effects as severe as Chemotherapy, in which chemotherapeutic drugs are taken systemically and harm healthy cells along with the tumor cells.

Hormonal treatment is only helpful in cases where the tumor cells have estrogen or progesterone receptors and therefore cannot be used in all cases.

Most breast cancer patients require chemotherapy, which is associated with side effects like hair loss, severe vomiting and overall decreased immunity. These debilitating symptoms could be controlled if there was some way to ensure the chemotherapeutic drug reaches the tumor cells only. This idea brought about the concept of selective drug-delivery systems and novel treatment carriers which will ensure the drug only reaches the target tumor cells.

In recent times, the use of nanoparticles as drug-delivery systems has become the most widely studied subject with regard to chemotherapy research. Nanoparticles are clusters of atoms, molecules and molecular fragments which can be combined with the chemotherapeutic drug. The nanoparticle protects the drug from destruction as it is transported within the blood thereby increasing the drug’s efficacy. It is also able to recognize tumor cells through site-specific characteristics, thereby ensuring the drug reaches its target.

Nano-technology is predicted to change the face of chemotherapeutic industry within a few years and will hopefully make cancer treatment more efficacious at lower doses and with reduced side effects. (2)

Alternative Healing Methods:

Alongside the Allopathic treatments, research has also been performed on integrative therapies which may not be the backbone of the management protocol, but  have shown to lend a helping hand to the patient. The Society of Integrative Oncology has set forth clinical guidelines on the use of music, meditation, yoga and other such measures which have proven beneficial in controlling stress, anxiety and depression as well as reducing chemotherapy-induced vomiting, peripheral Neuropathy and pain.

Family history is a strong risk factor for breast cancer and women who have had a first-hand experience with breast cancer of a family member are often terrified of being diagnosed with the same condition. Many such women are willing to undergo surgical removal of both breasts to eliminate their risk completely.

We look forward to a day when such drastic measures are no longer considered and breast cancer patients are optimistic about their prognosis. Until we reach that day, let the research continue…

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