Chances of early breast cancer detection in Tanzania to improve

Thanks to the donated machines from Hologic. Read the following piece of news from Deseret News by Wendy Leonard
In remote areas of Tanzania, women no longer have to rely on 20-year-old medical technology to determine their risks of breast cancer. Thanks to two clinicians from Intermountain Medical Center and donated machines from Hologic, a worldwide women's health company, the African country of nearly 40 million people is now home to 14 new mammography machines. The new network of devices replaces the antiquated and all too ineffective breast-cancer screening program that was in effect and could save the lives of thousands of women there.

Currently, low-tech breast exams are often done by health workers in the country, and many Tanzanian women who may have breast cancer never receive more definitive diagnostic tests. When it is detected, it is usually in an advanced stage, eliminating any chance of keeping both breasts. Many women there decline mastectomy, or removal of the breast.

"This is a tragedy that shouldn't happen today," said Dr. Brett Parkinson, medical director of the Breast Care Center at IMC. "We have the skill and technology to save many of these women's lives."

Parkinson, along with Dianne Kane, nursing director of oncology services at IMC, and Hologic representative Shannon McCarrel recently returned from the sovereign state of Africa as part of the East African Breast Care Project. The organization is devoted to helping Tanzanian women get access to screening mammography and breast ultrasound equipment and ultimately establishing a comprehensive breast-care clinic in that nation's largest city.

It was not the first trip for the project, as the group at IMC had forged a partnership with the Women's Medical Association of Tanzania in 2007 when a group of Tanzanian physicians visited Utah. Another group came the following year to train at IMC's center.

During their most recent trip, the group helped to educate dozens of Tanzanian health-care professionals, including physicians, students, technicians and administrators, in the area about the complications of breast cancer.

They also ran an ultrasound/breast biopsy clinic to instruct doctors on a new minimally invasive ultrasound-guided biopsy done through the skin. The procedure is a less-invasive option to surgical biopsy and facilitates tissue sampling of suspicious tumor masses originally identified on imaging but not felt on clinical breast exams.

"Our goal is to help doctors find the disease at a less-advanced stage so they can treat it with less-aggressive measures," Parkinson said. "Breast cancer seems to be different in Tanzania. We saw several cases of younger women with late-stage disease, most of whom will not survive."

As of now, the only option for women with breast cancer in the area is a mastectomy.

"As we collect data from our ongoing experiences, we will have a better idea of the epidemiology of breast cancer in that part of the world," he said.

The East African Breast Care Project plans to return to Tanzania annually, next year adding a surgeon to teach lumpectomy procedures to physicians in the country, a procedure that could save more breasts and stave off late stages of incurable cancer.
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