Background: Breast cancer has a low cure rate in low-income and middle-income countries because patients often present with late-stage disease that has metastasised to other organs. We assessed whether the implementation of a cancer awareness and breast examination programme that uses local, volunteer women could increase the early detection of breast cancer in a rural area of sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods: We did this pilot study in two counties in Gezira State, Sudan. We chose Keremet (56 villages) as the experimental county and Abugota (79 villages) as the control county. Female volunteers from villages in Keremet were trained in the detection of breast abnormalities. When trained, volunteers visited households in their village and screened women aged 18 years or older for breast abnormalities, referring women with suspected breast cancer for medical diagnosis and, if necessary, treatment at the district hospital. We also ran a cancer awareness programme for both men and women in study villages. Villages in the control population received no intervention. This study is ongoing.
Findings: Between Jan 1, 2010, and Oct 10, 2012, 10 309 (70%) of 14 788 women in Keremet were screened. 138 women were identified as having breast abnormalities and were referred to the district hospital for diagnosis and treatment. 20 of these women did not report to the hospital. Of the 118 women who did report, 101 were diagnosed with benign lesions, eight with carcinoma in situ, and nine had malignant disease. After treatment, 12 of the 17 women with either carcinoma in situ or malignant disease (four had early breast cancer and eight had ductal carcinoma in situ) were disease-free and had a good prognosis. In the control villages, only four women reported to the centre: one was found to have a benign lesion while three were diagnosed with advanced disease.
Interpretation: Our findings show that a screening programme using local volunteers can increase the detection of breast cancer in asymptomatic women in low-income rural communities. These findings can inform policy-makers' decisions in the design of cancer control programmes in Sudan and other similar areas in sub-Saharan Africa.
Funding: Sudan National Cancer Institute.
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