Stigma part of breast cancer's grip on poor

Associated Press | 11/4/2009, 4:53 a.m.

The report predicts the poorest countries will experience a 36 percent jump in breast cancer by 2020.

One problem: In wealthy countries, earlier diagnosis can lead to breast-saving surgery instead of breast removal. Even countries like Rwanda and Malawi have clinics that perform mastectomies if patients can travel to the capitals, Shulman says. But few have radiation equipment, making breast-conserving surgery there not an option yet. (He is hunting a radiation unit for Rwanda but says that's in the very earliest stages of planning.)

Mexico is a mixed situation, with radiation, other treatments and diagnostic mammography available in some places. That's how Knaul whose husband is a former health minister of Mexico was diagnosed, early enough that mastectomy and chemotherapy give her good odds.

But she fumes that while Mexico's poor and rural women often get Pap smears to check for cervical cancer, ``no one even suggests they check your breasts'' at the same visit. She founded an advocacy group Cancer de Mama to help, noting that Mexico's insurance program for the poor covers breast cancer care but they must get diagnosed first.

(Associated Press)
(EDITOR's NOTE: Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.)