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Opinion

Women encouraged to attend mammogram screening

Wednesday 24 August 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Health, National

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Women encouraged to attend mammogram screening
Breast Screening Australia’s Jennifer Broadbent (left) and Anne Anderson, TMO nurse Tohoa Cummings, and TMO x-ray technicians Talei Marshall and Waisiki Lomalagi (back). Photo: MELINA ETCHES/22082210

An overwhelming number of approximately 800 women have booked in to have a mammogram screening for the early detection of breast cancer.

The Breast Screening Australia mammogram screenings started this week on Monday at the Rarotonga hospital.

Due to Covid, for the past two years Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health (TMO) mammogram screenings had been shut down.

Nurse Tohoa Cummings said in the past about 40 women would be screened per day over a period of 10 days. This year the expectation was probably around 500 women.

“Since we have such a great number of women, the screenings have been extended for another two weeks – a month (on total),” said Cummings.

“The good thing is the volunteers from Breast Screening Australia agreed to extend the programme, which we are very thankful for.

“We are blessed indeed with this programme.”

Cummings has been involved in the screening programme for eight years. Currently stationed on the island of Aitutaki she was flown in to conduct the appointments to ensure women fit the criteria of 40 years and over, the screenings are specifically for these women.

Those under the age of 40 who are experiencing breast pain are asked to see a doctor first for a referral to see the breast physician from the mammogram team.

Women who were last screened in 2020 and advised to undertake two yearly screenings have been requested to make an appointment to be checked again this year.

Cummings has been working vigorously looking into women on Aitutaki and the Pa Enua who fit the criteria to attend the screenings.

TMO is looking approximately at seven women from each of the islands of Aitutaki, Mauke, Atiu, Mitiaro and some from Mangaia to attend the screening. The Cook Islands Breast Cancer Foundation and TMO are assisting with the airfares of women from the Pa Enua to fly to Rarotonga.

Medical radiation scientists for Breast Screening (NSW) Australia, Jennifer Broadbent and Anne Anderson are here for two weeks to run the screening programme.

“It’s important for women to get a mammogram for early detection to improve the quality of life and the length of life,” said Broadbent, who first came to Rarotonga in 2008.

Broadbent said general statistics still remained, adding “one in eight or one in seven women will get breast cancer”.

“It’s not to say that they will die from it necessarily, but they’ll get it. The early detection is the key,” she said.

Anderson says often there are no symptoms for breast cancer which is why the screenings are so important.

What the mammogram targets is the “asymptomatic” – meaning there are no symptoms, she adds.

“Once they have a symptom then it becomes a diagnostic mammogram where you’ve got to find out why there’s that lump there that you can feel. We can’t emphasis enough the importance of it or else we wouldn’t be here,” Anderson said.

Te Marae Ora in partnership with the Cook Islands Breast Cancer Foundation would like to encourage all women 40 years and over and who have not had a mammogram (breast screen) before, to have one this year.

For more information, phone the Rarotonga Hospital and ask for Rose Josefa 22664 extension 8031 and Tohoa Cummings on 22664 extension 8013 from 9am – 3pm, Monday – Friday for an appointment.

Women are encouraged to attend 15 minutes prior to their scheduled appointment to avoid disappointment.