Jamaican Women Diagnosed With Breast Cancer at Younger Age

Photo: Yhomo Hutchinson Medical Oncologist at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), Dr. Sheray Chin, addresses a JIS Think Tank, where she presented research findings on breast cancer in Jamaica.

Story Highlights

  • The median age of women diagnosed with breast cancer in Jamaica is 52, which is eight years younger than the global average of 60 years. Medical Oncologist at the University Hospital of the
  • West Indies (UHWI), Dr. Sheray Chin, told JIS News that “about 60 per cent of the breast cancer that we diagnose in Jamaica is among women between the ages of 25 and 59, while about 25 per cent is over the age of 60”.
  • Dr. Chin pointed out that the burden of breast cancer in Jamaica is high. “It is the most common cancer diagnosed in Jamaican women, and we have quite a high mortality rate compared to other countries in the world, so not only are we diagnosing many women, unfortunately, we are diagnosing them at a late stage in which cure or long-term survival is not always possible,” she explained.

The median age of women diagnosed with breast cancer in Jamaica is 52, which is eight years younger than the global average of 60 years. Medical Oncologist at the University Hospital of the

West Indies (UHWI), Dr. Sheray Chin, told JIS News that “about 60 per cent of the breast cancer that we diagnose in Jamaica is among women between the ages of 25 and 59, while about 25 per cent is over the age of 60”.

“This is different to what we are seeing internationally, so we have breast cancer being diagnosed in younger women, which tends to mean that it is a more aggressive breast cancer,” she pointed out.

She was addressing a recent JIS Think Tank, where she shared the findings of a study done by the University of the West Indies (UWI) in collaboration with the Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS) to determine the nation’s screening profile.

Dr. Chin pointed out that the burden of breast cancer in Jamaica is high. “It is the most common cancer diagnosed in Jamaican women, and we have quite a high mortality rate compared to other countries in the world, so not only are we diagnosing many women, unfortunately, we are diagnosing them at a late stage in which cure or long-term survival is not always possible,” she explained.

According to the Oncologist, the aim of the research is to ultimately improve upon the survival rate of women with breast cancer, and one way to do this is to diagnose earlier and to treat more effectively.

“So, while our treatments have improved over the years, unfortunately, we still know that we have a lot of locally advanced breast cancer where women are presenting with large lumps which they can already feel or which their doctors have found upon examination. It is these women who do not do well with conventional treatment, or treatment has to be quite aggressive,” she told JIS News.

The study looked at a six-year period in which about 50,000 women across the island underwent mammograms.

The data was used to determine which women are getting the screening test and whether they are undergoing the screenings as proposed by the international guidelines and at the recommended intervals.

Dr. Chin said that multiple studies have been done by UWI and also at the national level, looking at data from the National Public Health Laboratory, in which it was found that women presented with large breast cancer growths, at four centimetres or larger, which is most likely advanced cancer.

“During the study period, we found that many women, who presented for mammograms and were found to have suspicious mammograms for breast cancer, already knew that they had a breast lump. Their doctors had referred them or they presented of their own accord,” she noted.

Dr. Chin said the study also found that women in Jamaica tend to present late for screening, and the research team would like to see more women getting mammograms before they have any detectable masses.

This, she said would be done after the woman has taken some account of her breast cancer risk, which may include family history, her own history of child-bearing, breastfeeding, any genetic factors and age. “Most recommendations are that you should have your first screening mammogram at age 40 or certainly by age 50. We had women in their 70s who were presenting for their first mammogram. That certainly is too late because we would have missed many years of potentially detecting an earlier breast cancer,” she pointed out.

A mammography is X-ray technology that is used to image the breasts to find lesions or abnormalities that are not yet detectable by physical examination. The aim of mammography is to detect cancer early before any symptoms appear.

Dr. Chin’s research, which was presented at the National Health Research Conference in November 2017, earned her the award for best oral presentation at the event.

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