Kashmiri doctor’s youth-led cancer campaign sparks optimism

Dr. Shabnam Bashir.

Dr. Shabnam Bashir is an accomplished Surgical Oncologist with extensive expertise in breast, colorectal, and peritoneal surface malignancies. With a career spanning over two decades, Dr. Shabnam has excelled in both clinical practice and academia. She holds notable distinctions, including being an organ-specific oncosurgeon in Kashmir trained in laparoscopy, robotic, laser surgeries, HIPEC, and PIPAC therapies. Her dedication to cancer awareness and education is evident through her numerous contributions to conferences, workshops, articles, and awareness drives. 

Dr. Shabnam’s pioneering spirit is exemplified by her role as a core founder member of the Rectal Cancer Treatment Outcome Group and co-founding the Colorectal Division at Apollo Hospitals Bangalore. 

With a strong commitment to advancing cancer care, Dr. Shabnam Bashir continues to leave an indelible mark in the field of surgical oncology. In a candid chat with Free Press Kashmir, the doctor speaks about ways to tackle the disease. 


Your journey from graduating in 2004 to becoming a Senior Consultant in Breast Oncoplastic and Colorectal Surgeries is truly remarkable. Could you walk us through the pivotal moments that guided you towards this impressive career trajectory?

Joining Apollo Hospital in 2005 as a Junior Resident in Surgery marked the beginning of my journey. I intended to train in the UK after clearing exams like IELTS, PLAB, and MRCS Part I. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, I couldn’t proceed, and I embarked on a journey of setbacks and resilience. Family obligations and external challenges continued to shape my path, leading me to Fortis Escorts Multispeciality Hospital and research centre for my DNB Surgery. 

Overcoming biases as the first female surgical resident there, I eventually succeeded through perseverance and hard work, changing perceptions for other female residents who followed. My path included pursuing fellowships in Breast and Colorectal surgeries, with training at premier institutes like Tata Memorial Hospital and even an Advanced Robotic Surgery training in the USA. I co-founded the Colorectal Division at Apollo Hospital Bangalore, embarked on cancer awareness initiatives, and returned to my native place as a Senior Consultant to uplift healthcare services and promote Preventive Oncology. 


Could you provide a concise overview of breast malignancies and explain why they’re a growing concern among women today?

In recent years, breast cancer has taken a concerning lead, surpassing even cervical cancer, to become the most prevalent form of cancer among women, particularly in urban populations and those in their reproductive age.

Globally, a staggering 23 lakh new cases emerge annually, with India contributing 2.23 lakh cases. This alarming statistic is further exacerbated by estimated 1 lakh deaths each year. However, the true toll is likely underestimated due to inadequate cancer registries and incomplete reporting mechanisms.

A study from 2016 revealed that in the region of RCC Kashmir, an average of 15 new cases are diagnosed daily at SKIMS, painting a vivid picture of the pressing issue at hand.

While the span of a century has witnessed remarkable gains in life expectancy, it has also ushered in an era of age-related disorders. This new reality arises not only from the privilege of longer lives but also from the adoption of detrimental lifestyles, pervasive food adulteration, delayed pregnancies, reduced breastfeeding, urban pollution, extended exposure to various forms of radiation (especially ionizing radiation), sedentary habits, and contact with a range of carcinogens in our daily routines. Even seemingly innocuous elements like cosmetics, PVC seat covers emitting benzene fumes, plastic containers subject to extreme temperatures, and hormone replacement therapies contribute to the intricate web of factors that fuel breast cancer.

Genetics also has a role to play, accounting for 10-15% of cases as specific gene mutations can be hereditary.

Startlingly, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) highlights the stark reality: 1 in 28 Indian women stands the chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. In rural areas, the odds are 1 in 60, whereas in urban settings, the probability escalates to an alarming 1 in 22.

The complexity of cancer’s emergence is a symphony of genetic predisposition and environmental influences. In this intricate dance, the interplay of factors shapes destinies, unravelling the puzzle of who may be affected.


Considering the prevalence of breast and colorectal cancers in Kashmir, could you shed light on the severity of the issue and the societal challenges that hinder effective addressing of these concerns?

We’ve already discussed the burden of breast cancers. Regarding colorectal cancers (CRC), it is the third most diagnosed cancer in men and second most common cancer in women (GLOBOCAN 2020) worldwide. 

In a study at SKIMS (2014-2016), CRC was most common in age group of 56-65 (25%) and around 20% less than 35 years of age and 50% Stage III. But the good news is, 90% of colorectal cancers are preventable! 


What motivated you to extend your influence beyond the operating room through initiatives like Bluethon and Pinkayakithon? How do these events contribute to building a better-informed and compassionate society?

The idea was/is to work on bringing down the numbers and work on early detection because currently 60% of our patients come in advanced stages where the survival drops down dramatically. 

But since it’s very difficult to get people to gather and sit for an hour listening about cancers, so I thought of making it infotaining and mixed entertainment with information. 

The population group for teaching lifestyle modifications has to be younger than the one that is eligible for screenings because the lifestyle changes have to be brought at earlier age if we want to reduce the incidence. So my target group is teens and twenties. 

I collaborate with sportsmen and senior students in schools, higher secondary students, colleges and universities. I usually begin with a competitive kayak, boat, canoe or rowing race followed by my cancer awareness talk and then conclude with an awareness walkathon with placards and raising slogans about cancer awareness. 

Since my domains of specialization are breast cancers and colo-rectal cancers, I started Bluethon for Colorectal Cancers in March (March is celebrated as Colorectal Cancer awareness month, and blue ribbon is for CRC awareness) and Pinkayakithon for Breast cancer awareness in October (October is worldwide celebrated as Breast cancer awareness month and pink ribbon stands for Breast cancer awareness). 

We did not have any such events here for stimulating the masses about importance of awareness, screenings and early detection so I took the initiative to create some positive difference. These events take a lot of time in arranging things, venue and getting participants and sponsors and need support to be sustained in the long run. 

There are times when I do not get as many sponsors as needed or sometimes people back out. So in addition to managing the other requirements for conducting such events I end up shelling out a large amount to meet the expenses required for them. I really hope and pray that people, institutions, organizations and government comes forward and supports such initiatives and helps me to spread the word and fight this disease.


Looking ahead, what lasting changes do you hope to initiate in Kashmir’s approach to cancer prevention and treatment, and how do you envision these changes benefiting the community?

I want to create awareness in every nook and corner of our region by persistent outreach programs for awareness and screening, by involving our youth in such activities and stimulating their creativity to create a long lasting impact in Preventive Oncology. 

I want to create a centre that is blend of all High tech-gadgetry, technology and techniques for diagnostics as well as therapeutics in my domain under one roof as comprehensive cancer care and at the same time it should have continuum of care, accountability, and take care of holistic approach towards management of patients including their diet, physiotherapy as well as emotional and mental wellbeing.


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