Breast, disease and confusion | By Dr M Ahmed Abdullah 


Breast, disease and confusion

HUMANS are the only mammal in the animal kingdom that has permanently enlarged mammary glands. Apparently, we are also the only animal that attaches any sexual attraction towards the female breasts.

The rest of nature regards them for what they truly are; glands that produce a nutrient rich liquid to feed and nurture the newborns and infants.

Since antiquity breasts have been associated with fertility and female health. It is not only men who are obsessed with the female breasts, but women too.

That is why globally 1.5 million women undergo breast implants, each year. This is also evident from the constant supply and demand of breast enlargement creams, available at almost all pharmacies and medical stores across Pakistan.

The discussion on breasts is full of paradoxes. On one hand our conservativeness makes any open discussion about breasts a taboo topic, while on the other hand we are constantly bombarded with images and depictions of the female bosom.

Movies, advertisements, theatrical live performances and even news shows frequently sexually objectify women and their physical attributes. Many social media platforms also provide ordinary people opportunities to gain quick fame by facilitating interactions between voyeurs and exhibitionists.

In amidst of all this confusion, breast diseases are often ignored till the point that a lot of damage has been done. Each year 1.38 million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in Pakistan out of which 0.458 million women die.

The breast cancer rate in Pakistan is the highest among Asian countries. Breast lumps are often ignored because the discussion around the issue is often shrouded by shame and stigma.

This causes a delay in seeking care, and the disease becomes much more serious at the time of presentation.

But the issue is not just limited to cancer; other more benign yet painful conditions are often hidden, such as mastitis, abscesses, fat dystrophy and non-malignant growths.

Lack of awareness also causes many problems, and people are confused about the right kind of medical specialty needed to manage the condition.

Many people go to gynaecology doctors while breast cancer is the primary domain of general surgeons. The lack of female surgeons is also a great hindrance in seeking care.

We need to start open discussing human body anatomy and physiology on a scientific and realistic level.

It is high time that we move beyond the giggles and veiled gestures and bring to light the issues of sexual and reproductive health. Limited awareness gives rise to myths, myths give rise to fears and fear is the best thing to sell.

—The writer is Assistant Professor Public Health, Islamabad Medical and Dental College.

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