PVM Professor Finds Key to Increased Breast Cancer Detection in Rural Sudan

April 1, 2013

Purdue Veterinary Medicine Associate Professor of Cancer Biology Sulma Mohammed has pioneered an innovative approach to improving detection of breast cancer in women in rural Sudan.  Dr Mohammed led a study, published in the April issue of the journal The Lancet Oncology, which found that engaging local volunteers in an early screening program made it possible to overcome the stigma and social barriers that can keep women in sub-Saharan Africa from seeking help. 

In Africa, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and the second leading cause of death in women, explained Dr. Mohammed, who is from Sudan and is a member of Purdue’s Center for Cancer Research.  "Patients in Africa often present with late-stage breast cancer that has spread to other organs and is very difficult to treat," Dr. Mohammed said. “The stigma surrounding cancer is so great that people hide the disease from their family and friends and will not seek treatment until they are in severe pain,” she explained.  

“The same approaches that are successful in the United States don't work in these rural areas.  We need an approach that could overcome the barriers preventing these women from seeking help because thousands of women are dying needlessly," Dr. Mohammed said.  “We used young female volunteers from the community so that the screenings came from a familiar and trusted person who shares the patient's social fabric and belief system. If you are approached by someone you know and trust, you tend to be more relaxed and more forthcoming with any symptoms you may have."

Dr. Mohammed's research team included physicians from the National Cancer Institute at the University of Gezira in Sudan, and from the faculty of medicine at the University of Gezira.  The team first met with village leaders to discuss the effects of cancer on their community and to get approval of their screening program.  The village leaders then chose candidates for the training.  

Health-care workers provided female volunteers from selected villages with a five-day intensive training course in cancer risk factors, the importance of early detection and how to examine breasts for abnormalities. The volunteers then went door to door in their village to screen women 18 and older. The volunteers referred women with suspected breast cancer to the district hospital for diagnosis. The program also included a cancer awareness campaign for both men and women.

To view a complete news release about the study, click here.

Writer: Elizabeth Gardner, Purdue News Service, ekgardner@purdue.edu

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