Article Text

  1. A. Kirby
  1. Seattle, WA., McGill University and KSDPP, University of Washington School of Medicine


Background Breast cancer is a leading cause of death for women worldwide. Although the incidence in Ghana is lower than in high income countries, the mortality rate is higher. This is largely due to late diagnosis. Over 90% of women with breast cancer in Ghana present with advanced cancer compared to 10% in high income countries. Because treatment of early cancer is more effective and more affordable, early detection is an important goal for a low income country such as Ghana.

Purpose The aim of this project is to understand the factors that keep Ghanaian women from seeking medical care for breast symptoms, and to ascertain what is being done to address these obstacles.

Methods Informal interviews were conducted with breast care advocacy groups, patients, doctors, and women in the community regarding health care practices, knowledge, and attitudes surrounding breast cancer.

Results Reasons for late presentation of breast cancer include fear of mastectomy and death, cost, absence of pain, ignorance of symptoms and treatment options, shame, survivor silence, lack of routine screenings, inaccessibility of medical services, and the appeal of traditional healers over doctors. To address some of these issues, Breast Care International and Mammocare, two nongovernmental organizations, offer lectures and clinical breast examination screenings throughout Ghana. They and several major hospitals have opened clinics solely for breast diseases.

Conclusions Breast Care International and Mammocare remove many of the barriers to early detection by taking the education programs and screenings directly to the women. Encouragingly, the breast care centers associated with these groups see a larger percentage of early cancers than other hospitals. More culturally appropriate messages reaching more women and more accessible, affordable care can further contribute to breast health in Ghana.

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