In Zambia, more than two-thirds of female patients with breast cancer present with late-stage disease, leading to high mortality rates. Most of the underlying causes are associated with delays in symptom recognition and diagnosis. By implementing breast care specialty services at the primary health care level, we hypothesized that some of the delays could be minimized.
In March 2018, we established a breast care specialty clinic for women with symptomatic disease within 1 of the 5 district hospitals in Lusaka. The clinic offers breast self-awareness education, clinical breast examination, breast ultrasound, ultrasound-guided breast biopsy, surgery, referral for chemoradiation, follow-up care, and electronic medical records.
Between March 2018 and April 2019, of 1,790 symptomatic women who presented to the clinic, 176 (10%) had clinical and/or ultrasound indications for histologic evaluation. Biopsy specimens were obtained using ultrasound-guided core-needle procedures, all of which were performed on the same day as the initial visit. Of the 176 women who underwent biopsy, 112 (64%) had pathologic findings compatible with a primary breast cancer, and of these, 42 (37%) were early-stage (stage I/II) disease. Surgery for early-stage cancers was performed at the district hospital within 2 weeks of the time of definitive pathologic diagnosis. Patients with advanced disease were referred to the national cancer center for multimodality therapy, within a similar time frame.
Breast care specialty services for symptomatic women were established in a district-level hospital in a resource-constrained setting in Africa. As a result, the following time intervals were minimized: initial presentation and performance of clinical diagnostics; receipt of a definitive pathologic diagnosis and initiation of surgery; receipt of a definitive pathologic diagnosis and referral.