ecancermedicalscience

Special Issue

A novel strategy to downstage breast cancer: impact of a phone helpline

21 Nov 2023
Neetha Mary Kurian, Jeffrey Mathew Boby, Somannair Suneesh, Sumit Datta, Aju Mathew

Breast cancer incidence rates in India are rising. The majority of breast cancers are still diagnosed in later stages. There is also a burden of neglected cancers in India, where patients neglect their symptoms due to fear, ignorance, financial insecurity and lack of access to medical care. This results in greater morbidity and mortality from breast cancer. Systematic screening programs have been tested in an Indian setting, with limited success. An effective strategy to downstage breast cancer is an area of unmet need. We aimed to explore the effectiveness of an anonymous nurse-led telephone helpline in identifying patients with possible breast malignancies and to encourage them to seek healthcare. We created a telephone helpline system by training junior public health nurses (JPHNs) to provide counselling to women who may call with breast-related symptoms. We then created a short video message on the initiative and disseminated it using social media platforms. During the 1-year study period, 434 calls were received from individuals who reported having some breast symptoms. Among them, 28% (122 callers) had never consulted a doctor for their symptoms. 78 callers consulted a nearby doctor upon the advice of the JPHN. Among them, 14 callers (18%) were advised by the doctor to undergo investigations to rule out malignancy, while 64 (82%) of them were found to have some benign/normal breast conditions. 3 (21%) out of the 14 patients who underwent further evaluation were eventually diagnosed with breast cancer. Our study provides evidence that an anonymous nurse-led telephone helpline can be an effective strategy to reduce the incidence of neglected breast cancers and downstage the diagnoses.

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