In October last year, 28-year-old Prajakta Jadhav (name changed), a resident of Bhosari and a teacher by profession, noticed a painful lump in her left breast. “It was swollen and misshapen, there was discharge oozing out. I took some painkillers and hoped it would recede. Instead, it got worse and I became sick and nauseous,” Jadhav said. Her doctor then recommended that she visit an oncologist. “I went and was told it was a severe infection and that pus had formed in my breast. I underwent surgery to drain out the pus, but am still unaware of why it happened. I am not lactating and am quite hygiene-conscious,” she said.
In a similar case, 25-year-old Asha Mule from Pimpri started noticing a bubble-like formation on her left nipple. After ignoring it for a few days, she saw that the shape of her breast, too, was changing, becoming red and hardened. She approached a breast oncologist who told her about the infection. “I thought it was a cancerous lump — fortunately it was not. However, I have been on medication for the past four months. The infection is reducing, but I was told that there was no particular cause detected in the tests,” Mule said.
There has been a 50% increase of cases in the last 5 years.
Jadhav and Mule are part of an alarming trend creeping up on women in the city. Such infections, seen mostly among lactating mothers, TB patients and diabetics, have now shifted its focus to young females with no history of any disease at all. Doctors claim that in the last five years, such cases have risen by over 50 per cent.
Every month, at least six new cases are detected, compared to five years ago, when only one or two showed up every two months. The age group suffering from this as-yet-undiagnosed infection, too, has gone down. While before it was mostly women in their 40s, it is now in the 20s and 30s.
Doctors don’t know what’s causing the infection, only that it’s not cancer.
What is even more worrying about the infection is that doctors and cancer experts are utterly baffled by it. Their only certainty is that it is not cancer.
“The shift in age and the increase in numbers are worrisome,” said Dr Anupama Mane, consultant breast surgeon at Ruby Hall Clinic. She added, “The troublesome part is that no cause has been detected so far. There are several theories, but nothing has been fixed yet. This means we lack a standard protocol for treating such cases and the infection takes a long time to heal — sometimes several months.”
Agreed Dr CB Koppiker, a senior breast cancer surgeon, “It is an immunological phenomenon, but nobody knows the reason behind the sudden spurt in breast infection.”
He added, “The cases were reported in the past, too, but not with such severity and large numbers. Every month, we see around six new cases and 15 to 30 coming back from before. It resembles breast TB but it isn’t that and we cannot come up with a concrete reason. Many a time, due to a misdiagnosis, patients go straight for surgery. But, if this is picked up on early, this isn’t required,” said Koppiker.
Said Dr Shona Nag, medical oncologist from Jehangir Hospital and chairperson and founder of Maharashtra Oncology Society, “The number of cases we are seeing is a cause of concern now. We need a strong investigation and source of diagnosis to help us detect the exact cause so that treatment becomes easy and accurate.”
The infection has even experts from Tata Memorial Hospital stumped. Dr Rajiv Sarin, genetics head at the hospital, said, “Such cases are rare and have become alarmingly common now. We are discussing the matter with oncologists across the state. We are guessing that the rise in numbers is due to the increase in hormonal imbalance, which can cause lumps in the breasts. These may be further aggravated due to infections and low immunity. However, extensive study is required for a proper diagnosis.”