As many as 90 per cent of the women in rural areas in India are unaware of the possibility of self-examination of their own breasts and one in three women had not even heard of the deadly disease, found research.
Breast cancer is the most common of the types of cancer occurring in India, followed by lung cancer and cervical cancer.
A delay of more than three months in seeking care was observed in almost half of the women.
"Early detection may be crucial for successful breast cancer treatment. Therefore, it's important to influence women's awareness of the symptoms and their attitudes towards treatment," said doctoral student Nitin Gangane in a statement released by the Umea University in Sweden.
"It's urgent to have a national breast cancer programme in India, while at the local level, we need to raise awareness among women about breast cancer," Gangane said.
The team performed two studies including over 1,000 women in the mainly rural-dominated district of Wardha in the state of Maharashtra in central India.
Hardly any women in the studies self-examined their breasts. Every third woman had not even heard of breast cancer.
On the other hand, most of the women showed a great deal of interest in learning more.
"Illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and superstition regretfully lead to many women delaying their contact with the health care system too long," Gangane said.
In addition, no pain in the breast lump delayed a visit to the doctor.
Incorrect initial diagnosis or late referral for examination led to diagnostic delay, while the high costs delayed treatment.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) India is likely to have more than 17.3 lakh new cases of breast cancer and over 8.8 lakh deaths due to the disease by 2020.
It also revealed that the average age of death from the disease has shifted from 50 years to 30 years.