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Mastectomy alert for South Asian women

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by Cancer Research UK | News

4 May 2004

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South Asian breast cancer patients living in Yorkshire may have higher rates of mastectomy compared with non-Asians because they present to their GPs too late, Cancer Research UK scientists reveal.

Research published in today’s British Journal of Cancer1 shows that 63 per cent of South Asian women with breast cancer had a mastectomy compared with 49 per cent of non-South Asian patients.

Researchers examined data from 1986 to 1994 on nearly 17,000 women in Yorkshire, of which 120 patients were South Asian. Preliminary findings show that the incidence of breast cancer rose faster in South Asians than in any other group.

The study, conducted at the Cancer Research UK Clinical Centre in Leeds, shows that the number of breast cancer patients is rising from Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani communities as these populations age and increase in numbers. Changes in lifestyle and diet contribute to this trend, but further research is necessary to explain the observed increase.

Researchers revealed that South Asian women delayed their first GP visit about initial breast abnormalities for about two months, twice as long as non-Asians.

The time taken to report any breast changes can affect treatment options.

By the time of diagnosis, the tumours in South Asians were often more advanced than non-Asians and required radical surgery. Breast-preserving options, such as tumour excision followed by radio- or chemotherapy, were probably not viable alternatives in many cases.

The authors suggest that the high mastectomy rate may be a result of poor breast cancer awareness in South Asian women living in Yorkshire, compounded by low participation in breast screening.

Encouragingly, once breast cancer was diagnosed, South Asians were treated promptly and their survival was similar to non-South Asian women.

Dr G. Velikova, at Cancer Research UK, says: “South Asians had a significantly longer patient-related delay before visiting their doctor, and subsequently presented with larger tumours that often resulted in mastectomy.

“It is vital that South Asian women are encouraged to take part in breast screening and that awareness of the disease is made a priority at general practices. There is an urgent need to explore the reasons for this delay, and to develop breast cancer awareness programmes specifically targeting South Asian women to encourage participation in these communities.”

This research will help healthcare professionals target minority ethnic groups to encourage women to have breast screening and to recognise symptoms earlier.

Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Information Director Dr Lesley Walker says: “Although survival rates of breast cancer in South Asians are similar to non-Asians, which is reassuring, the mastectomy rate during this time period is cause for concern. Using these findings as a basis for future research, we need to determine whether this situation has changed in the last ten years, and find out why South Asians delay visiting their doctors about breast abnormalities. Programmes to increase breast cancer awareness must be encouraged.”



  1. British Journal of Cancer90 (10)