A ‘pink bot’ awareness campaign on breast cancer
A ‘Hi’ over WhatsApp is all it takes. The reply arrives almost immediately. You are not greeting a person, but a ‘pink bot’. The bot is quick to list nine topics on breast cancer starting with early signs of breast cancer, early diagnosis to treatment modalities, and risk factors.“One can choose either Tamil or English. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), the bot answers every query on breast cancer,” says Dr P Guhan, director of Sri Ramachandra Institute of Oncology and Research (SRIOR), Sri Ramakrishna Hospital.
The pink bot, a chat module integrated into WhatsApp to answer queries on breast cancer is the latest initiative from Dr P Guhan and his team to raise awareness on it. It has been launched to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign celebrated worldwide in October too raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer.
“The pink ribbon symbolises breast cancer awareness. In other countries, airports, railway stations and hotels are decorated in pink lights and tournaments and matches are held during the month,” explains Dr Guhan.
Chat, listen or watch
The doctor, who has pioneered several online campaigns using apps, ebooks, animated videos and websites over the last two decades, adds that volunteers wear pink bands to express moral support for women with breast cancer, adding “In India, we thought a WhatsApp campaign would make an instant reach.”
To make it interactive, the bot shares two URL options: a bluetooth URL that plays the information as audio and another, that leads the user to a website with animated videos. The prototype has been developed at SRIOR in such a way that it integrates all features on a single platform and users can choose to chat, listen or watch to stay aware. There are videos that feature stories of survivors.”
The numbers are always on the rise and early diagnosis is the key, says Dr Guhan. “In Coimbatore region, 28 women per one lakh is diagnosed with cancer, which is the second highest rate after Chennai where the number is 50 women per lakh.”
He admits that there is still great fear associated with the disease and people seek medical help only when the disease has advanced. “While in Western countries, more than 80 percent cases are diagnosed at an early stage and the survival rate is over 90 percent. In India, more than 50 percent of cases are detected in stage III or stage IV levels and hence the survival rate is only 60 percent.”
Dr Guhan says that the diagnosis of cancer among younger women of 30 to 40 years has increased from two percent to four per cent in the last 25 years, while in 30 to 40 age group, the increase is from seven percent to 16 percent. “Early menarche, late menopause, excessive body weight, lack of exercise and alcohol consumption are risk factors. While 10 percent of the cases are hereditary, over 90 percent of cases are from such risk factors that are modifiable and can be fixed with changes in lifestyle. They have to be aware to identify the risk factors and take precautions,” he advises.
Women above 40 should go for an annual mammogram, he says. If detected early, the treatment may not require radiation or chemotherapy. “Anyone above 20 can start with self-examination of breasts to look for any lumps. Once they cross 30, a clinical examination helps,” says Dr Guhan
Even today, people avoid mammograms because of fear. “Cancer is not a death sentence. A breast cancer diagnosis is not the end of life,” he assures.