Google Ads

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bahamian women 'should continue to have breast cancer screenings at an early age'

Tribune Staff Reporter -

DESPITE controversial American breast cancer screening guidelines, a local oncologist recommends that Bahamian women continue to have annual breast cancer screenings at an early age.

Dr John Lunn, medical director of the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative Foundation, is one of many in the medical community who advocate annual mammograms and self-examinations no later than the age of 40 in hopes of detecting the disease early on.

Those with a genetic predisposition to the disease should get screened even younger, he said.

This is necessary, Dr Lunn told The Tribune, due to the high incidences of Bahamian women under the age of 50 who are struck with the disease or have a genetic predisposition to it.

His comments came in the wake of guidelines from the US Preventive Services Task Force which said that women aged 50 to 74 only need a mammogram every other year, rather than annually.

The recommendations, released by the 16-member panel of American experts, also said that women older than 74 do not need to be tested.

The board also said that US doctors should not instruct women to examine their breasts for lumps. The panel argued that the X-rays often resulted in false positives, or false alarms, which sometimes led to unnecessary treatment.

Dr Lunn said the new recommendations -- which have sparked opposition from the American Cancer Society -- do not apply to the Bahamas. Although he conceded that mammograms are not perfect, he said the testing does save lives.

"At the moment this doesn't apply to the Bahamas -- these are US guidelines -- but it doesn't apply to populations like us where half the women have breast cancer under the age of 50 and 20 per cent of all women carry a gene that predisposes them to breast cancer," said Dr Lunn.

"So we are not changing our recommendations for screening at the moment. All women should start annual screening and monthly self-tests at 40."

As for whether the news from the United States will affect how Bahamian women view the need for breast cancer testing, Dr Lunn believes the danger will overpower the chatter from abroad.

Mrs Susan Roberts, founder of the Cancer Society, said her organisation will continue to push for women as young as 35 to get screened.

"Early detection is the best protection," Mrs Roberts said, adding that she was "horrified" by the panel's recommendations.

Due to the fundraising success of this year's "Ride for Hope" charity event, the Cancer Society is preparing to fly in a group of women under the age of 50, who are at risk for breast cancer, to undergo free mammograms.

A recent study revealed that 20 per cent of 195 Bahamian breast cancer survivors in the study's test group have an abnormal gene which predisposes them to the disease.

Dr Lunn is one of several local oncologists who, along with international, began the study which yielded the startling statistics.

This rate is among the highest in the world, according to experts who conducted the research.

According to published reports, 34 per cent of Bahamian women diagnosed with breast cancer are 44 years old or younger while only 12 per cent of American women under 44 are diagnosed with the disease.

The average age of women with breast cancer in The Bahamas is 42 while the average age in the United States is 62.

November 19, 2009