300 new cases in last six years –figures prove breast cancer still a major health issue for Guyana

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BREAST cancer is seemingly still a major health concern for Guyana, judging from the latest figures released by the Guyana Cancer Institute (GCI), which puts new cases detected in the last six years at “more than 300”.Giving a breakdown of how he came by these figures, GCI Outreach Director, Dr. Seyed Ghazi told a Breast Cancer Sensitisation seminar here Thursday that while in 2010, there were only 15 new cases, the number climbed to 22 and 23 in 2011 and 2013 respectively, then “jumped alarmingly” to 76 and 77 in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

And while the number had dipped to 41 in 2015, this year has already seen an average of six new cases each month, according to figures provided by Dr Ghazi.

He attributes the spike in figures to an increase in GCI’s outreach activities, which include more frequent screenings for persons in Guyana’s remote areas, as well as the greater emphasis being placed on awareness and education, which has seen the detection of 314 new cases of breasts cancer here in the six-year period at reference.

WAR ON CANCER
“We have declared a war on cancer in Guyana,” Dr Ghazi said, adding: “In addition to the burden of the disease, victims and their families face enormous psychological effects, and that is where organisations like the Cancer Society is helpful in giving support to them.”

The session, which was hosted at the National Library by the Ministry of Social Protection, in collaboration with the Organisation for Social and Health Advancement in Guyana (OSHAG), the Cancer Society, and the Cancer Institute, saw in attendance First Lady Sandra Granger, staff of the Ministry of Social Protection, the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana Police Force and other government ministries and agencies.

During Thursday’s sensitisation seminar, visiting specialist, Dr. Theophilus Lewis, who is Director of Surgery at New York’s Kings County Hospital, noted that in the United States, breast cancer is the Number One form of cancer ailing women, and the Number Two cause of cancer-related deaths among them as well.

He explained that while men are also at risk for breast cancer, the possibility of having the disease is higher for women, as one in every eight of them is likely to have it in their lifetime.

EARLY DETECTION
Dr Lewis, who has been visiting Guyana annually since 2002 as part of a partnership with OSHAG, noted that while the survival rate for persons with breast cancer have improved significantly, early detection remains key to saving lives and breasts.

“We are still having too many patients coming to us at the late stages of breast cancer, especially Stages Three and Four,” Dr Lewis said. “We can do so much more for people if we detect breast cancer early.”

He went on to explain that at Stage One, 90 per cent of the persons so detected can go on to live longer than five years, while for Stages Two, Three and Four, the figure can drop to 70, 50 and 15 per cent respectively.

“Age and gender are the biggest risks factors,” he said, adding that family history and genetics can also contribute significantly.

The specialist noted that while there are cases of persons in their 20s and 30s getting cancer, the chances of having breast cancer doubles after age 40, so he would advise that women get screened early.

“You can have self- breast examinations at home; you can also have clinical exams, mammograms and sonograms, because a large part of the problem is that the most common presentation of breast cancer is painless lumps; and if these lumps are ignored, by the time the patient comes to us, they have advanced to a late stage,” Dr Lewis said.

He further advised that women conduct self-examinations monthly, preferably a week after their menstruation, while those women who have stopped mensturating do so on their birthdays, and on that date every month thereafter.

“The goal is breast conservation, but we need to detect the cancer early,” Dr Lewis said.

OSHAG conducts annual outreaches to Guyana around October, and supports Guyanese women with breast cancer to access treatment and care.

The organisation was formed by a group of overseas-based Guyanese to help cancer patients here.

Its President, Ms. Carol Bagot said Thursday that the organisation focuses on breast cancer while working here, but has collaborated with the Cancer Society through Ms Mitzy Campbell, a cancer survivor, and the Georgetown Hospital to start an oncology unit.