Data provided by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica and the Registrar General’s Department show that the incidence of breast cancer is on the rise in Jamaica.
According to the figures, some 3,362 Jamaicans succumbed to breast cancer over the 11-year period 2005 – 2015. Of that number, 67 were men. At least one man died every year during this period, with the highest number being 10 in 2005 and 2015.
The least number of women, 228, died in 2006, with the highest number, 400, succumbing in 2015. Of note is the fact that there has been an increase in breast cancer deaths every year from 2011 to 2015. In 2011, there were 298 deaths. This figure moved to 308 in 2012, increasing to 342 in 2013. Deaths from breast cancer jumped to 399 in 2014, inching up to 400 in 2015.
Breast cancer affects men and women across the social and economic spectrum. However, once diagnosed, those with the economic means, including health insurance, stand a greater chance of a better health outcome, according to the Jamaica Cancer Society. The observation by the Cancer Society has been made over many years of interaction with breast cancer survivors.
Since early diagnosis and testing have been proven to save lives, the screening guidelines as stipulated by the Jamaica Cancer Society are that women conduct monthly breast self-examinations, annual clinical breast examinations, and annual mammograms. If an individual has a family history of breast cancer, that places him or her in the high risk group. It is, therefore, recommended that screening for breast cancer starts earlier. For example, if a first-degree relative (mother, sister, father, brother) was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45, then screening should begin at age 35 years. Patients are encouraged to discuss their risk with their physicians
For his part, the health minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, when asked whether the testing guidelines for breast cancer should be revised, noted that such guidelines were based on risk. Responding to Gleaner questions, the minister emphasised that “the general guidelines for breast cancer were based on women at average risk for breast cancer, and screening routinely can start at 40.”
Continuing, Tufton said: “We do clinical breast examination on women 20 years and older and recommend breast self-examination in this age group for persons at average risk. For persons at high risk, the guidelines will vary. This is why, as minister, I recommend that all Jamaicans get their regular check-ups every year to discuss their risk and get the required screenings.”