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India can bring down cost for Breast Cancer Detection, says US Scientist

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Breast Cancer (representational Image), Pixabay

Kolkata, Feb 28, 2017: American genome expert Mary-Claire King, whose work resulted in the identification of the breast cancer gene BRCA1 and transformed the diagnosis and treatment of the disease, on Tuesday expressed faith in Indian scientists to make technology cheaper for breast cancer detection.

“We need to tackle this problem with modern 21st-century tools. The actual cost of sequencing patients dropped from about $4,000 to $250 (around Rs 16,000) in the US in the last few years. Indians are incredibly good at making technology better, faster and cheaper,” she said.

King was addressing a packed audience of researchers, students and faculty at a lecture here on ‘Understanding Inherited Breast and Ovarian Cancer: From Gene Discovery to Precision Medicine and Public Health’ for The Cell Press-TNQ India distinguished Lectureship Series, 2017. It was supported by National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani.

For India, the US National Medal of Science awardee proposed that every breast and ovarian cancer patient be tested genetically for mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2 as well as other known breast and ovarian cancer genes.

Specific inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers, and they have been associated with increased risks of several additional types of cancer.

“My proposition for India is every breast and ovarian cancer patient should be sequenced for mutations to BRCA1 and BRCA2 and all other known breast and ovarian cancer genes. I am not suggesting that in the resource-limited context here that all women above the age of 30 be screened, just begin with patients,” said the University of Washington professor.

Testing could help women predisposed to mutations to make an informed choice on whether to opt for risk-reducing surgery, chemoprevention and also encourage follow-ups of sisters and daughters of patients (there’s a 50 percent chance of passing it along).

The 71-year-old active researcher dubbed cervical cancer a “disease of poor women” while breast cancer is one of those “rare conditions that is a disease of prosperity”.

“The reason that breast cancer incidences are going up is because we are the most successful mammals that have ever lived, by this we mean we are fabulous. We are fertile longer, we are able and we are fit, we retain cognitive functions longer,” she added.

In addition to her work on identifying breast cancer genes, King is recognised worldwide for demonstrating that humans and chimpanzees are 99 per cent genetically identical and applying genomic sequencing to identify victims of human rights abuses (Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo in Argentina wanted King to find their kidnapped grandchildren). (IANS)

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Health System Failure for Cancer Patients in Venezuela

Last year, about 4,700 women in Venezuela became ill with breast cancer, according to the Anticancer Society of Venezuela

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Cancer Patients are not just afraid of the disease itself, but they also fear dying because they cannot find or afford the necessary treatment. Pixabay

A breast cancer diagnosis is terrifying enough at any time. But for 49-year-old Grecia Solis, the arduous choices faced by all cancer patients were complicated by the crippling decline of Venezuela’s public health facilities.

After her diagnosis two years ago, doctors recommended surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Before the oil-producing nation’s steep economic decline of recent years, those services would have been available free of charge or for a nominal fee at a state-run public hospital.

But trained staff, medicines and equipment are in such short supply at those facilities today that a public hospital was no longer an option. Instead, Solis was forced to borrow money from family and friends to pay for her operation at a privately run, for-profit clinic.

Her operation, performed in May 2018, cost her $500, a modest amount by U.S. standards, but a huge sum in Venezuela where hyperinflation has ravaged most people’s savings. With additional financial help from a sister in Ecuador, Solis was able to pay for the recommended eight sessions of chemotherapy, which were completed in December.

Solis’ story is a common one among cancer patients in Venezuela. Patients are not just afraid of the disease itself, but they also fear dying because they cannot find or afford the necessary treatment.

Last year, about 4,700 women in Venezuela became ill with breast cancer, according to the Anticancer Society of Venezuela, although the nation’s health ministry has not produced official figures since 2012. The society reported 2,300 women died last year from the disease, one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among Venezuelan women.

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A breast cancer diagnosis is terrifying enough at any time. Pixabay

Senos Ayuda, an NGO that supports breast cancer patients, estimates the number of patients are even higher, at almost 7,000 a year. And it stresses that treatment, medicine and doctors are becoming ever less accessible with the deepening of the nation’s humanitarian emergency.

The problem is part of a wider crisis in public health facilities. According to several Venezuelan doctors’ organizations, 73% of the country’s operating rooms are out of service or lack supplies and have unsanitary conditions.

A survey conducted by the organization Doctors for Health indicated that 90% of radiotherapy facilities are inoperative, 94% of health centers cannot take an X-ray, and 88% of hospitals have insufficient supplies and medicines. The Anticancer Society of Venezuela has reported that 80% of public radiotherapy equipment has been inoperative in the last year.

Solis says she is frustrated the government of President Nicolas Maduro does not accept that Venezuela is in a humanitarian crisis and has done little to address the problem, leading to avoidable cancer deaths.

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Since 2018, 400,700 women in Venezuela have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer. According to the Anti-Cancer Society in Venezuela, getting an accurate numbers of patients is unlikely. Since 2012, the Ministry of Health does not offer official figures. VOA

Another patient, 58-year-old Algeria Dias, was diagnosed with a breast tumor in August 2017. She was able to afford treatment with the help of family, donations, some government help and the sale of the family car, but she says she now she spends every day “going from clinic to clinic, public and private, and see if they have the space or equipment I need to monitor my disease.”

For her part, Solis says she is running out time. She has until December to raise $5,000 to pay for more than 30 additional radiotherapy sessions to prevent the likely return of her cancer.

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“Cancer does not wait. Cancer does not warn and when you have it, it overtakes you. It hurts having the uncertainty of not knowing if you can say, “I am a cancer survivor,” she said. (VOA)