Early detection of breast cancer hampered by lack of resources
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CAPE TOWN - While breast cancer continues to be a health concern for both men and women, limitations with obtaining essential medical diagnostic services in the public sector, remains one of the overlooked obstacles to early detection.
As early diagnosis leads to earlier and more effective treatment interventions, financial limitations, a lack of resources, and lengthy waiting time to obtain medical care in public and government institutions contribute significantly to the disease’s late detection.
Elizabeth Mentor, a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed in 2015 and is now in remission, said that when she first began seeking medical attention, she was sent from pillar to post because she didn't have medical aid.
“For an average working-class woman, obtaining diagnostic services without the assistance of medical insurance is a difficult journey for many. I remember when I was initially diagnosed, I was shuffled from pillar to post because one, the machine was not working, and the next day, another excuse came up. To some extent, I just felt like giving up because diagnostic services were just not easily accessible with the urgency of the disease.
“All of these hurdles severely impact our chances of survival. I believe that the only way we can really progress is to advocate for the importance of early diagnosis so that the disease can be effectively treated and the risks of cancer metastasising and growing are reduced,” said Mentor.
Carla Lind, chairperson at the Reach for Recovery Cape Peninsula branch, said that private hospitals charge around R2000 for mammography services for patients without medical aid, which poses a huge challenge for the average South African who not have enough money.
Cancer Alliance project manager Salomé Meyer said that before understanding the obstacles that cancer patients face, it is critical to understand the inevitable truth about the public health sector when it comes to mammograms.
“Firstly, one needs to understand that there's a big difference between a screening tool and a diagnostic tool and in South Africa mammography is regarded as a diagnostic tool and not a screening tool.
“If it was a screening tool, then it would have been available to everyone and anyone, but given the resource-constrained environment the public health is already grappling with, having a mammography machine available in each clinic that also requires a qualified radiographer is just not financially feasible,” she said.
Meyer said for this reason there was a great emphasis on awareness and education for women and men about breast cancer which entails self-examination to pick up on any abnormality .
“ When anything is abnormal you can then take yourself to a healthcare professional and insist on a clinical breast examination after you've done your own self examination, and because women in the public-sector to get access to health services in a much different way compared to women in the private sector, undertaking their risk profiles contributes immensely to the early detection of the disease,” said Meyer.
She added that people needed the right attitude and take responsibility for thier own health .
“I mean a person taking responsibility for their health and actually saying that I will take responsibility for my body and I will make sure that I eat healthy within my means. By also insisting on getting your clinical examination brings about a different type of health seeking behaviour that is very much needed within our communities.
“I think our health-care professionals also need to have a change of attitude. I feel like health-care professionals need to have a prevention type of attitude so that when a patient confides in them about their condition, they should see it from a prevention perspective and say that is good. Let's make sure that there isn't a problem and not not just show the patient away.”
“In South Africa, we easily hide behind the fact of actually taking responsibility to go for screening. We forget to look inwards within ourselves in terms of what is our responsibility and that is the type of conversations we need to have when we start talking about cancer and cancer awareness and in South Africa,” said Meyer.