‘Swayam’ review, the key to preventing breast and cervical cancers

A woman’s well-being largely depends on her menstrual health and, to a large extent, a disorder-free lifestyle which can impact longevity.

With the slow and steady increase in cases of breast and cervical cancer, attention is now focused on the lack of sustained awareness-raising measures. While breast cancer is more common, the disease affecting the genital tract is classified into cervical cancer, endometrial cancer, and ovarian cancer. The main reason for the increase in cases is the general misunderstanding that cancer only occurs in the later stages of life, but cases of the disease which attacks young women, including adolescent girls, single women and nursing mothers, broke the myth.

Women Doctors Wing (WDW), a unit of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), is working on a project for awareness, prevention, screening and early detection of breast and cervical cancer. The project is called “SWAYAM” because it encourages self-examination by women. “Breast cancer can be easily detected by palpating each part of the breast and checking for painful/painless lumps, if any,” says WDW National Committee Member P. Krishna Prasanthi. Similarly, cervical cancer can occur even without any noticeable symptoms like abdominal swelling, abdominal pain, or altered menstrual cycle. In case of known indications, Dr. Prasanthi suggests that women go to a gynecologist for proper diagnosis.

Nor is there much knowledge about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which prevents up to 90% of infections that can cause cancer or genital warts. “A few educated women are coming forward, but those in rural areas don’t have a clue. Apart from the lack of awareness, it is the prohibitive cost that is a hindrance”, observes B. Nirmala Devi, senior gynecologist-obstetrician from Tirupati. As the vaccine should be taken before marriage, preferably at the age of adolescence, the focus is on creating strong women and ensuring a productive life.

Anemia is another disorder that casts a shadow over women’s physical and emotional well-being. “The government provides iron tablets that reach rural women through the ASHA network, but few women take it seriously,” laments Dr Nirmala.

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