Murray, Utah (7/7/2008) — Two breast cancer experts from Intermountain Medical Center are traveling to Tanzania on July 11 to help establish that nation's first clinic that will screen and treat women for the disease.
Currently, breast cancer screening in the East African nation 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.
In the end, thousands of women who could be treated successfully if they lived elsewhere in the world end up dying.
"This is a tragedy that shouldn't happen today. We have the skill and technology to save many of these women's lives," says Brett Parkinson, MD, a radiologist who will be part of the mission to Tanzania along with Dianne Kane, the nursing director for oncology services at Intermountain Medical Center.
The two are officers with 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 the nation's largest city, Dar es Salaam. So far, the group has shipped five mammography machines and five ultrasound machines to Tanzania. Six more mammography machines will leave Salt Lake City for Africa later this summer.
In June, seven professionals from Tanzania visited Intermountain Medical Center in Murray for a week of training on the equipment.
"It was a fantastic experience - for them and for us," says Kane. "They are so hungry for the tools necessary to help their countrywomen."
During the 10-day trip to Tanzania, Parkinson and Kane -- along with Shannon McCarrel, a representative of Hologic Inc, which donated the mammography machines -- will meet with their former students as well as medical teams from across the country. Dr. Parkinson will teach radiologists how to read mammograms, while McCarrel will help technologists learn to operate the machines; Kane will help administrative staff set up practices to direct patient flow and follow-up care. The training will take place in Dar es Salaam and Arusha, a large city near Mount Kilimanjaro.
"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.
Once a good screening system is in place, the East African Breast Care Project will teach physicians about breast surgery and other forms of cancer treatment.
The East African Breast Care Project is the brainchild of James Parkinson, a trial lawyer in Southern California and brother of radiologist Brett Parkinson. He was inspired to start the organization after reading a tragic newspaper story about one Tanzanian woman's failed struggle with breast cancer. James Parkinson is now co-chair of the group, along with Mississippi businessman and retired civil-rights attorney Wil Colom.
Besides the mammogram and ultrasound machines, which were donated by Hologic and Alliance Imaging, respectively, donations of film, cassettes and other items have been sent to Tanzania, all under the coordination of Salt Lake City-based Globus International Relief.