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Testing at the doorstep

Provincial governments have to pull up their socks to make mobile facilities for testing breast cancer a reality

Testing at the doorstep

Keeping in view the increasing incidence of breast cancer in Pakistan, it is advised that all women above 40 years of age must get themselves screened for breast cancer. They should either visit cancer hospitals where mammography machines are installed or benefit from the mobile mammography machines available in areas where they live.

The outreach programmes have benefited communities in many developed and developing countries but, unfortunately, in Pakistan it is at a nascent stage. There are very few mobile mammography machines, many of which are non-functional due to different reasons, including non-availability of technical staff.

Shahid Riaz Khan, spokesperson Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Islamabad says PAEC has started a pilot project and handed over three mobile mammography machines to hospitals in Hyderabad/Jamshoro, Lahore and Multan.

These mobile units are taken to areas where a number of women show their willingness to get tested for breast cancer. He says, “willingness of women to get tested is a pre-requisite and these tests cannot be carried out without their consent. This is just a symbolic move and they need to have more mobile units keeping in view the country’s population and area.”

In view of the high cost of mammography machines, there is a need to go for cheaper devices to detect breast cancer early.

There is show of apathy on the part of the government. An official in the Sindh government tells TNS that in 2016, Scotland donated 10 mobile breast cancer screening units to the Sindh government but they have not been put to use. “Even the technicians required to run these have not been appointed. Instead, the government has advertised for purchase of new ones. The kickbacks involved may be the reason why the freely obtained ones have not been made operational,” he says.

In Lahore, the Cancer Care Hospital, which is being constructed with the help of donations has started free mobile mammography services. Three digital machines have been imported from Italy at a cost of Rs15 million each. One has been installed at Hijaz Hospital, Lahore while the other two have been mounted on vehicles that are currently serving the populations in and around Lahore.

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Dr Riaz Rahman, veteran oncologist working with the hospital, says these machines have been procured with the cooperation of MJF Lions Club, whereas more machines would also be imported soon. So far, he says, “12,000 mammography tests have been done with the help of these mobile units out of which 51 results confirmed cases of cancer. Those willing to get tested through mobile units can call at 0324-7777880.”

In view of the high cost of mammography machines, there is a need to go for cheaper devices to detect breast cancer early. In India, they are using iBreastExam (iBE), a device that uses patented ceramic sensors to detect subtle variations in breast tissue. The device was developed at Philadephia’s Drexel University by an Indian.

Similarly, a Mexico-based person named Julian Rios Cantu has developed a smart bra for this purpose. This bra has 200 sensors that map the surface of the breast as well as texture, colour and temperature, and relay the data to a computer or smartphone application. The data is then processed by artificial intelligence. Heat sensors are able to detect blood flow, which often suggests that blood is feeding cancer cells.

Punjab Informational Technology Board (PITB) Chairman, Dr Umar Saif, hopes for a similar breakthrough and says that while the Punjab government has provided hand-held ultrasound devices to lady health visitors (LHVs) to provide services to expecting mothers in remote areas, the possibility of having hand-held breast cancer detection devices can also be looked into now. 

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

shahzada irfan
The author is a staff reporter and can be reached at [email protected]

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