CAPE TOWN – During the Covid-19 lockdown, Groote Schuur Hospital saw and diagnosed about half of the normal amount of breast cancer patients, says one of the hospital’s doctors.
Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo visited the breast clinic at Groote Schuur on Friday, for a breast exam and mammogram as part of her regular health screenings.
Due to Covid-19, some non-Covid operations were put on pause, said Mbombo.
She said that there was a 48% reduction of general operations in the metro and about 40% in the rural areas in the Western Cape.
“About 70% of all cases of breast cancer are discovered through self observation globally. We urge women after every month two months after their periods to self examine,” she said.
Mbombo added that almost 500 to 600 patients are seen at Groote Schuur with those suffering from breast cancer or signs of cancer, in a year.
“Some operations were delayed if they were not urgent as part of focusing on Covid-19,” she said.
Every two minutes worldwide women are diagnosed with breast cancer, stressed Mbombo.
Dr Francois Malherbe from Groote Schuur said: “During the Covid-19 lockdown we have seen and diagnosed about half of the normal amount of breast cancers.”
The hospital had 8000 patients and diagnosed just over 600 new breast cancers In 2019, he added.
“We operate 350 cancers which means 250 patients present with advanced cancers in Stage four disease,” he said.
Malherbe added that the most common female cancer is breast and for males it is prostate.
In his coronavirus update on Friday, Western Cape premier Alan Winde said the focus is to roll out and ramp up services which present a low risk, but have a high impact on healthcare outcomes.
Meanwhile, local firefighter at Cape Town International Airport, Chantel Memziwe, who previously beat cancer, now unfortunately fights Non-Hodgkin lymphoma for the second time.
The condition occurs when the body produces too many abnormal lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.
Despite challenges with the disease the 41-year-old will run the upcoming Sanlam Cape Town Marathon on October 18 with the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) being the primary beneficiary.
She was first diagnosed in January 2017 with stage four of the disease.
“After several tests and scans, lymph nodes which are immune system glands that enlarge in response to a bacterial or viral infection, were discovered in my abdomen,” she said.
Memziwe went for a mammogram on the lump on the side of her breast, but doctors couldn’t find anything unusual in the same month before she was diagnosed in 2017.
“I was due for an appointment with my endocrinologist, because I am a type one diabetic, insulin dependent. That was when the doctor discovered the lymph nodes in my abdomen,” she said.
After undergoing chemotherapy, she was declared cancer free in August 2017.
The following year during her check it was discovered that the lymph returned again in her abdomen, underarms and groin areas in June.
Her spleen was enlarged and two weeks later she was back on chemotherapy.
“I went for a PET scan earlier in the week, which will determine more chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant. I’ve found a bone marrow in my older sister, Astronetta Coetzee,” she said.
Katherine de Lang was diagnosed at the age of 27 with stage one breast cancer November last year.
“I decided to face this disease head on. Even though my treatment plan changed so many times I still knew I would win,” she said.
De Lang added that if she had not done a self examination in June last year and found a lump in her right breast, it would have spread quickly.
Cansa’s unit manager for the Western Cape Dorothy Du Plooy, said that newly diagnosed patients in the Western Cape were able to receive treatment quicker than normal during the lockdown.
“Challenges faced during lockdown were that many patients did not receive their medication or colostomy bags, which collects faecal matter from the digestive tract,” she said.
Once a lump is felt in your breast, the disease could have already been present for about five years, said specialist surgeon at health centre Apffelstaedt and Associates, Dr Justus Apffelstaedt.
“With early detection and effective treatment breast cancer can be transformed from the disease, to a disease that can be managed successfully,” he said.
In the majority of cases, cancer could have been picked up with mammography before the lump can be felt, added Apffelstaedt.