Deadly drop in breast cancer care during Covid

Johannesburg- The disruption due to Covid-19 saw fewer women show up for breast screenings and now the Breast Imaging Society of South Africa reports that breast cancer accounted for more than a quarter of new cancer cases in South African women last year and 8%of cancer deaths.

Dr. Lusanda Jonas, a general surgeon who opened a Breastic Centre at the Netcare Pholoso Hospital in Polokwane in August, said according to the 2020 GLOBOCAN figures, about 2.3-million new cases were diagnosed in 2020.

“Tragically, 685 000 lives were lost to breast cancer. Hospitals were full. Everyone was concentrated on the treatment of this new virus, and women were not informed that cancer surgery remained top priority.

“We saw many patients present late. Breast cancer can be deadly and aggressive if not treated early,” she said.

Professor Jackie Smilg, the chairperson of the Breast Imaging Society of South Africa, a sub-specialty group of the Radiological Society of South Africa, said that the gold standard for detection of breast cancer remained the mammogram, which could find tell-tale changes in breast tissue years before symptoms develop.

“Early breast cancer detection reduces deaths, extends life expectancy, and improves the quality of life for breast cancer patients. Early detection, through mammography, also means less extensive surgery, fewer mastectomies, and less aggressive chemotherapy.

“It is disappointing that medical aids and government agencies do not accept the evidence of the benefits of annual mammography.”

The new Breastic Centre offered a holistic range of breast care services including screening, diagnosis, and medical and surgical treatment of breast cancer, as well as treatment of benign breast diseases. Payment structures for non-medical aid patients were being drawn up, she said.

“It is very important to me that women have access to education around breast health and early screening. I myself lost a very close cousin to breast cancer two years ago,” she said.
Every woman should follow these rules:

• Have a breast examination by a healthcare professional at least every three years from the age of 20
• Have a mammogram by a healthcare professional every year from the age of 40
• For women at high risk of breast cancer, such as those whose immediate family members have had the disease, annual screening should include a breast examination and a mammogram from the age of 35.
• It is important for all women to develop an awareness of their breasts and to do self-examinations of their breasts every month in order to pick up any changes.

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