Breast cancer cases continue to rise, a development of growing concern for a leading advocate in the fight against the number one killer of Barbadian women.
But with current early detection efforts, the number of breast cancer deaths was holding steady, said Coordinator of the Breast Screening Programme of the Breast Cancer Society Dr Shirley Jhagroo.
With one person dying from various forms of cancer each week on the island, and breast cancer being one of the major causes, Dr Jhagroo said she wants to see more people coming forward for screening.
Pointing to statistics from the Radiotherapy Department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), Jhagroo said in 2013 there was a total of 469 cancer patients receiving treatment, of which 101 were for breast cancer.
In 2014, there were 426 total cancer cases, 98 of which were breast cancer while in 2015 there was a total of 430 cases with breast cancer accounting for 140.
Insisting that the data was in no way conclusive since many patients often opted to use other radiotherapy centres or go overseas for treatment, Jhagroo said data from June 2016 to June 2017 indicated that of the 115 cancer patients who sought treatment at the association’s radiotherapy centre, 28 of them were treated for breast cancer, ten of which were at stage two of the disease.
Jhagroo, who was addressing the official launch of the association’s Walk for the Cure 2018 campaign at the Bougainvillea Beach Resort on Friday, said the available data meant that “breast cancer is still contributing quite a bit”.
“Unfortunately”, she added, “breast cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in Barbados”.
“The number of new cases diagnosed per year continues to increase with a noticeable increase in younger women below the age of 50, and this is still a cause for concern,” said Jhagroo, while pointing out that the one-stop clinic was resulting in an increase in early detection of the disease.
Insisting that awareness increases early detection, Jhagroo said early detection meant more lives were being saved.
“The rates are increasing every year [but] the good news is that the mortality has remain the same over the last decade since the breast screening programme came onboard – it has remain between nine and 11 per cent – and this can be attributed to early detection, giving people more treatment options and therefore improved treatment and better results,” she said, while pointing out that the percentage of self-referred patients attending the clinic continued to increase annually.
The number of mammograms for the first six months of this year were 3,468 while the number of ultra sounds for the same period were 337, “a small improvement” when compared to the same period in 2016 and 2017, she said.
There was a noticeable falloff in the number of attendees for both mammograms and ultrasounds, which she said was mainly due to the economic conditions.
“Being a woman, you tend to put the health on the back burner. The economy was not good so women deferred having their mammograms and taking care of themselves. However we have seen some improvements and we hope that will continue,” she said.
With the growing concerns in mind, Jhagroo said the Breast Screening Programme of the Barbados Cancer Society was this year targeting over 20,000 people for its Walk for the Cure 2018 campaign with the hopes of raising in excess of $140,000 to upgrade its equipment for early detection and reporting.
While the funds raised from last year’s campaign having been used for the installation of new software for mammograms, Jhagroo said this year’s finances would go towards the purchase of a new state-of-the-art reporting system for ultrasounds.
The gynaecologist said the association has already met with officials from International Medics in order to source the new reporting system, adding that this type of screening “has become very more demanding”.
“At the moment ultrasounds are being reported by handwriting and that is definitely not satisfactory in 2018. We have met with the people concerned and this should be up and going once we have enough funds to do it,” she said. A portion of the funding is also to subsidize the cost of mammograms, ultrasounds and ultrasound-guided biopsies for those who could not afford them.
Jhagroo also indicated that there were plans to invest in one of the latest models of a 3D mammogram unit, adding that negotiations have already begun with the suppliers to trade the old machine for the new one, which could see the association receiving a reduction of about $90,000 from the system that would normally cost in the region of just under $700,000.
Title sponsor of the Walk for the Cure campaign, CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank, which has so far raised US$240,000 regionally for this year’s campaign, has pledged to surpass last year’s figures of US$450,000, which was a decline from the previous year due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which wreaked havoc in the region last September.
Gildan Activewear will provide the t-shirts for the more than 20,000 supporters of this year’s Walk for the Cure 5K Run and Walk, which comes off on October 7.
The Grantley Adams International Airport has also extended this year’s awareness campaign to the arrivals terminal in order to ramp up its awareness efforts and donations from the thousands of guests expected to visit the country during the month of October, said the airport’s Keith Goddard.
Activities for the campaign will run from August 25 to October 27, and will include two competitions this year.