African Health Sciences

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Rethinking breast cancer screening strategies in resource-limited settings

M Galukande, E Kiguli-Malwadde


The incidence of breast cancer in sub-Saharan nations is increasing. There is a worsening scarcity of Human Resource for Health in Uganda in particular and Sub Saharan Africa in general. Resources available for health care are predominantly spent on infectious disease care such as (HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria). These factors and more make the future of breast cancer care including screening in Sub Saharan African grim. Although mass breast cancer screening by mammography has been proved to be efficacious in the developed nations of the world, this has not been replicated in the developing nations because mass screening is not yet possible for the reasons stated. This paper proposes an alternative to mammography mass screening.
Breast health programs for the most part are adhoc or non-existent in Uganda. The challenge of mass screening is not only limited to less readily available mammogram machines and trained human resources but also to the fact that the targeted population is of relatively young women in their 30s, implying that screening should commence earlier than it is practiced
in nations where breast cancer peaks among women in their 50s. Mammography is not efficacious in young women with dense breast tissue. Ultra sound scans are not only up to 10 fold more available than mammography machines but are half the cost per examination.
Although using ultra sound Scan for screening for non-palpable lumps is not up to par with standard breast cancer care mammography. It may be better than nothing, may be beneficial in aiding early cancer diagnosis. This concept is akin to the "task shifting" advocated by WHO. It is worth investigating use of ultra sound scan for mass screening for breast cancer in resource-limited environments. This is not in any way lowering standards of oncologic diagnosis but filling the otherwise unattended to gap, the unmet need.

Key words: breast, cancer, screening

African Health Sciences 2010; 10 (1): 89 - 92

AJOL African Journals Online