Doctors suspect that it is often misdiagnosed as cancer; also say genital TB causes infertility
In an alarming development, doctors at the civic-run KEM Hospital have found 18 women being infected with a deadly strain of the tuberculosis (TB) bacteria in their breasts. All this while lumps in the breasts were largely associated with cancer. The 18 women, aged between 20 and 40, were found to be infected with TB in the breasts after the hospital conducted tests on 106 women, who had complained of lumps in the breasts.
The problem came to light after a 40-year-old woman approached the hospital in 2011, saying she had lumps in the breasts. Investigations revealed a benign tumour, but TB was not detected even then. The woman was administered antibiotics, but her condition didn't improve. Finally, the lump was removed and sent for tests, and the report said she had TB. The woman was then put on anti-TB medications, prompting KEM to launch a full-fledged study.
Doctors have said that the city is already grappling with several cases of multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB, and this discovery will further complicate the fight against the disease. Dr Rao said that doctors often do a biopsy to rule out cancer and then treat the patient with antibiotics. "No one suspects it could be TB in the breast because it is rare in India. So no one had ever done such a study," she said. Though India has one of the highest rates of TB and accounts for one-fifth of the global numbers, finding TB bacteria in the breast is unusal. It accounts for less than 1% of all diseases of the breast in the industrialised world, typically affecting young lactating women. It usually occurs as an abscess or a mass in the breast. Doctors believe that TB in the breasts is often misdiagnosed as cancer, and patients often discover this at an advanced stage, where surgery or removal of the breasts is the only option. The 18 patients are currently under the central government's Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program.
The JJ Hospital study, conducted by the gynaecology department, which focused on TB in the genital tract, found that it was a major cause of infertility for women.
Here, fluid was extracted from the pelvic and uterine cavity and endometrium cell of women and sent for PCR testing. The study revealed that in the last two years, 35% of women who visited JJ for infertility treatment had TB of the genital tract.
Dr Ashok Anand, professor, gynaecology department, who conducted the study, said that, in the last two years, he saw 500 women with infertility and diagnosed 175 of those with TB in the genital tract. Out of the 175 cases, only 60 were able to conceive. In the rest, the bacteria had damaged the uterine cavity.
"In 90 percent of cases, they approach us at an advanced stage. Five years ago, only 10 percent of the total infertility patients suffered from genital tuberculosis. Women always ignore the symptoms," Dr Anand said.