Dianne Kane, nursing director of oncology services at Intermountain Medical Center, with children near breast cancer clinic that Utahns set up as part of medical mission to Tanzania to improve breast care for women in that country.
Dr. Brett Parkinson, medical director of the Breast Care Center at Intermountain Medical Center, with health care workers in Tanzania.
MURRAY, UT (9/01/2009) – Two breast cancer experts from Intermountain Medical Center in Murray are helping to save the lives of thousands of women in Tanzania – one mammogram at a time.
The pair, along with a representative of a company that has donated mammogram machines to clinicians in Tanzania, just returned from that country as part of the East African Breast Care Project, an organization devoted to helping Tanzanian women get access to screening mammography and breast ultrasound equipment, and ultimately establishing a comprehensive breast care clinic in that nation’s largest city.
"We chose Tanzania, a country of nearly forty million people, because it had no effective breast cancer screening program before we got there,” said Brett Parkinson, MD, medical director of the Breast Care Center at Intermountain Medical Center. “In fact, prior to our arrival in 2008, there was only one functioning mammography unit. It was twenty years old, which is ancient for a piece of medical equipment, and it produced unacceptable images."
Participating in the trip with Dr. Parkinson was Dianne Kane, nursing director of oncology services at Intermountain Medical Center, and Shannon McCarrel, a representative of Hologic Inc., which donated mammography machines for the medical mission. Since its inception in 2007, the East African Breast Care Project has donated 14 mammography machines to Tanzania, a country that previously only had access to one.
During their most recent trip, the group taught dozens of Tanzanian healthcare professionals, including physicians, students, technicians and administrators. They also ran an ultrasound/breast biopsy clinic instructing local doctors on minimally-invasive, percutaneous ultrasound-guided breast biopsy. This procedure is a biopsy that is a less invasive option to surgical biopsy. It is done with ultrasound guidance, so the doctor knows where to place the needle at the time of biopsy. This facilitates tissue sampling of suspicious tumor masses that are identified on imaging, but not felt on clinical breast exam.
Overall, breast cancer screening in Tanzania is fairly low-tech – mostly manual exams done by health workers. Many women who are suspected of having breast cancer never receive more definitive diagnostic tests. And usually when breast cancer is formally diagnosed, it’s in a very advanced stage. In such a case, the only treatment available in Tanzania is complete removal of the breast – an option many women decline.
Thanks to efforts of the Dr. Parkinson and the East African Breast Care Project, that’s beginning to change one woman, one mammogram, at a time.
“This is a tragedy that shouldn’t happen today. We have the skill and technology to save many of these women’s lives,” says Dr. Parkinson.
This is not the first international trip for the project. After forging a partnership with the Women’s Medical Association of Tanzania, a group of female Tanzanian physicians traveled to Intermountain Medical Center in 2007 to formalize the relationship and subsequently form the project.
In June 2008, a group of radiologists, technologists and a file room worker from Tanzania spent one week training in the Breast Care Center at Intermountain Medical Center. Dr. Parkinson, Kane and McCarrel then traveled to Tanzania last summer to give caregivers in the area some hands-on experience with the donated equipment.
“Our goal is to help doctors find the disease at a less-advanced stage, so they can treat it with less-aggressive measures,” says Dr. Parkinson. “Breast cancer seems to be different in Tanzania. We saw several cases of younger women with late-stage disease, most of whom will not survive. As we collect data from our ongoing experiences, we will have a better idea of the epidemiology of breast cancer in that part of the world.”
Dr. Parkinson says the East African Breast Care Project plans to return to Tanzania annually. As of now, the only option for women with breast cancer in the area is a mastectomy, or removal of the breast, and the team is already planning to add a surgeon to accompany them on next year’s trip to teach lumpectomy, which is a breast conserving therapy.