Women along Fukushima’s northern coastline have been waiting longer to consult doctors about breast cancer suspicions since March 2011, according to a study by a local doctor.
Ever since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, the ratio of women seeking consultations more than three months after noticing breast cancer symptoms rose to 29.9 percent, compared with 18.0 percent before the calamity, the study found.
Many who consulted a doctor about symptoms did so only after being encouraged by family members, the study found.
The rise in single-person and elderly households caused by the nuclear evacuation is believed to be driving the trend.
The study was conducted by Akihiko Ozaki, a doctor at Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, who noticed that many women began visiting him only after their symptoms had progressed.
Early diagnosis is the key to breast cancer treatment. If a woman waits three months or longer to see a doctor after noticing symptoms, her prognosis is likely to be poor.
A doctor with knowledge of medical conditions in disaster-affected areas said the same trend could emerge in other areas hit by disasters, including the Tokyo metropolitan area, where the population is graying just like the rest of Japan.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Japan and around 13,000 die from it every year. The number of patients has been rising, highlighted by the death of popular TV personality Mao Kobayashi last month at the age of 34.
Ozaki’s study, published in a British cancer journal, covered 219 patients who, after noticing lumps or other symptoms, visited either of two hospitals in Minamisoma between 2005 and 2015. Of the total, 122 had visited before March 11, 2011, and 97 afterward.
The figures exclude patients who had been previously diagnosed. The average age of those who saw doctors before the calamity was 62, compared with 63 for those who did so afterward.
Of those who were living in the households of their sons or daughters, 37.9 percent waited at least three months to see a doctor after noticing symptoms, and 51.5 percent did so within three months.