NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 23 – A global breast health advocacy group has called for a collaborative approach by medical community, policy makers and civil society groups to create more awareness on breast cancer screening at primary healthcare centres.
The Breast Health Global Initiative (BHGI) which strives to develop evidence-based guidelines to enhance breast-health outcomes.
For this to take shape, cancer experts are calling for joint efforts in the implementation of breast cancer guidelines to effectively manage breast cancer from screening, diagnostics to treatment especially in low-resource areas.
Breast cancers accounts for an estimated one in five of all cancers in Kenya, and it is the third leading cause of death from cancer.
Speaking during a two-day International Breast Cancer Symposium in Nairobi that ended on Friday, BHGI Chairperson and Director, Ben Anderson, said that the majority of breast cancer cases in Kenya and the region are diagnosed at Stage 3 and 4 due to limited uptake of early diagnosis initiatives to detect cancer at early stages when curative cancer treatment is more practical and affordable.
“System barriers including cost of imaging and tissues sampling, appropriate diagnostics and lack of trained and specialized personnel in most sub-Saharan African countries have greatly contributed to increased cancer numbers. There are low hanging fruits that we can improve on to streamline processes through proposed guidelines and increase uptake of the breast cancer early diagnosis.”
Miriam Mutebi, the Chairperson of the symposium and a Breast Surgical Oncologist consultant at Aga Khan University Hospital, highlighted how recent years have seen an improvement of local, regional, and continental guidelines around breast cancer especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
“In the sub-Saharan Africa region, breast cancer patients tend to present much younger by about 10-15 years than their western counterparts. They are also diagnosed with more advanced cancers due to a combination of health system, financial and patient-related factors.”
“They also frequently do not complete their treatment. Some of the socio-cultural barriers develop because women are frequently not the primary determinants of their health seeking behavior and may have to rely on their partners and spouses for financial support in order to access care,” Mutebi said.
The application of these guidelines especially in low-resource settings requires a systematic approach recognizing the diversity of the healthcare environment, making use of available resources without compromising the quality of care to breast cancer patients
“Limited resources should not determine the quality of care a patient receives, and it is within this context that doctors and policy makers endeavor to improve health systems and care delivery for patients,” said Mutebi.
The Chief Executive Officer of the National Cancer Institute, Alfred Karagu, highlighted a number of challenges affecting the fight against breast cancer management and cancer in general in the country including health systems inequalities which limit diagnosis and treatment opportunities, inadequate cancer research infrastructure, limited health expenditure in cancer control by governments and international stakeholders, a strong bias towards infectious diseases, poorly coordinated advocacy efforts for political and social action as well as limited uptake of screening by women due to financial constrains among others challenges.
“Across the globe, there are many cancer forums but scientists from low-resource settings hardly get the opportunity to present their experiences in such conferences. The uniqueness of this symposium is that it is happening where it’s needed the most because breast cancer is the leading cancer in Kenya.”
The second International Breast Cancer Symposium involved researchers and scientists from all continents in both high and low-resource regions coming together to exchange scientific evidence-based findings that will help in the process of implementation and advance the breast cancer agenda in managing the disease.
The scientific meeting which brought together cancer specialists from across the globe was organized jointly by the Aga Khan University and Hospital, the Ministry of Health, the National Cancer Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, UICC Global Cancer Control, the African Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the Kenya Society of Hematology and Oncology (KESHO).