While early detection is the key for successful breast cancer treatment, one in three women in rural India had not even heard of the deadly disease, finds a research led by a doctoral student of Indian-origin.
Breast cancer is the most common of the types of cancer occurring in India, followed by lung cancer and cervical cancer.
The findings showed that as many as 90 per cent of the women in rural areas are unaware of the possibility of self-examination of their own breasts.
A delay of more than three months in seeking care was observed in almost half of the women.
The delay in diagnosis and treatment was for more than twelve weeks in 23 per cent of the patients.
"Early detection may be crucial for successful breast cancer treatment. Therefore, it's important to influence women's awareness of the symptoms and their attitudes towards treatment," said doctoral student Nitin Gangane in a statement released by the Umea University in Sweden.
"It's urgent to have a national breast cancer programme in India, while at the local level, we need to raise awareness among women about breast cancer," Gangane said.
The team performed two studies including over 1,000 women in the mainly rural-dominated district of Wardha in the state of Maharashtra in central India.
Hardly any women in the studies self-examined their breasts. Every third woman had not even heard of breast cancer.
On the other hand, most of the women showed a great deal of interest in learning more.
"Illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and superstition regretfully lead to many women delaying their contact with the health care system too long," Gangane said.
In addition, no pain in the breast lump delayed a visit to the doctor.
Incorrect initial diagnosis or late referral for examination led to diagnostic delay, while the high costs delayed treatment.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) India is likely to have more than 17.3 lakh new cases of breast cancer and over 8.8 lakh deaths due to the disease by 2020.
A recently published study, in the Journal of Business Research showed that lack of early diagnosis of breast cancer may kill 76,000 Indian women in a year by 2020.
It also revealed that the average age of death from the disease has shifted from 50 years to 30 years.