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Women in the developing world, like Pakistan, tend to die at greater rates than in more developed countries because the disease is generally detected later and health care options aren’t as good.

Hasan said several factors have contributed to the rise in the disease - above all the cultural taboos. Breast cancer survivor Sameera Raja, who owns an art gallery in southern Karachi and supports women facing breast cancer, says that it has to be changed.

“You’re surprised to hear how women actually sit on things,” Raja said. Recalling how a woman would feel too embarrassed to talk about it even with her husband, she said: “Don’t hide behind closed doors.”

Unlike in the U.S. where celebrities like singer Sheryl Crow or actress Christina Applegate have freely discussed their fight with breast cancer, few such public figures have come forward in Pakistan. That’s changed with Mirza, though she had to delay her treatment for three months after she was diagnosed in March 2012 to handle her work, which included how to rule on whether a criminal conviction against the serving prime minister should disqualify him from politics.

“There was lot of pressure on me, work pressure,” she said. “Everybody (would) say it’s an excuse I’m using to run away.”

Mirza described her friends and family being shocked by the diagnosis, as the cancer is considered by many as a death sentence. But during her diagnosis and treatment, she attended international conferences, ruled on the then-prime minister’s case and later ran for re-election and won while undergoing chemotherapy.

She now uses her position in parliament to advocate for women’s health issues. She plans to propose a bill making it mandatory for women to have breast cancer screenings and mammograms yearly, as well as to teach girls in schools to do breast exams themselves. She also pushed the health ministry to explain why there is no national database on breast cancer deaths.

“I think the role models will have to come forward,” Mirza said. “That is one reason I had to.”

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Associated Press writers Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan, and Zaheer Babar in Lahore, Pakistan, contributed to this report.