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BREAST CANCER MORTALITY RATES TOO HIGH


Right: Carving depicting a woman doing her breast self-examination donated to the Jamaica Cancer Society by medical practitioner and artist, Dr. Warren Robinson. - Norman Grindley /Staff Photographer

Jamaica's breast cancer mortality rate is 30.1 per 100,000

comparing unfavourably to the U.S. rate of 21.5.

SEVENTY-TWO women who were screened last year by the Jamaica Cancer Society's (JCS's) Mammography Department, had to grapple with the initial fear, shock and then anger attached to a positive diagnosis of breast cancer.

But even though a positive diagnosis of a cancerous breast lump is not necessarily a death sentence, JCS's chairman, Earl Jarrett says that all the statistics are indicating that breast cancer is still the leading cause of death among young women aged 25 to 44 years old.

The latest mortality statistics published in June's West Indian Medical Journal points to 291 women dying of breast cancer in 1999, about 24 per cent of all cancer deaths among women. These same data, collected by the Jamaica Cancer Registry also put Jamaica's breast cancer mortality rate at 30.1 per 100,000 comparing unfavourably to the U.S. rate of 21.5.

"Jamaica's breast cancer mortality rates versus the U.S. rates are too high. We have a real problem and we need to put serious effort behind it," Mr. Jarrett said.

He links the high mortality rate to the fact most women, in the risk group (35 years and older) have never been screened for the disease. Only about four per cent of the target group of women are doing regular breast cancer screening tests.

Just about 5,968 persons (including five men) had mammograms (breast X-rays) last year at the JCS where one of about 14 mammography units in the island is located. Though the number is low, this is a 28 per cent increase over those screened in 2000. Much of the increase is due to the introduction of a mobile mammography service that travels into the island's rural interior, reaching women who would not normally be screened.

The low breast cancer screening rate, Mr. Jarrett said, speaks to the issue of access, with so few mammography machines available to rural women and also to the matter of cost of the screening test.

"Many women still have to make the choice between screening and other urgent family issues such as back-to-school preparations," he said.

Warning signs of breast cancer

During regular breast self-examination, women should look out for any possible changes in breast and nipple appearance. Look for:

  • Lump or thickening in the breast or under the arm
  • Changes in the size, shape or contour of breast
  • Clear or blood-stained discharges from the nipple
  • Skin on the breast or nipple becoming red
  • Changes in the feel or appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple (dimpled, scaly or inflamed)

Early detection promotes cure

'EARLY DETECTION' should be the watch words in breast cancer prevention strategies. The Jamaica Cancer Society notes that when breast cancer is found in the early stages, the cure rate is nearly 100 per cent.

Your personal prevention plan should include:

  • Regular breast self-examination
    Starting at age 20, check the breasts every month (about one week after the start of menstruation) for lumps, thickening or any changes.
  • Visit your medical practitioner or health centre for professional examinations. Women older than 20, should have these professional examinations at least once every three years and after age 40, they should be done every year.
  • Have regular mammograms (breast X-rays). This piece of equipment can detect very small lumps, which the hands may not be able to feel. It is said that lumps as small as a pin's head can be detected by a mammogram. Mammograms are recommended once every two years for women older than 40 and once every year for women older than 50.

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