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Mammogram screening cancelled, returning in early 2024: TMO

Thursday 31 August 2023 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Health, National


Mammogram screening cancelled, returning in early 2024: TMO
A Rarotonga resident gets her mammogram, overseen by a medical specialist. FILE/19070817

Mammogram screening will be offered on Rarotonga as early as next year.

This comes after Te Marae Ora, (TMO) Ministry of Health is in the process of procuring a new mammogram machine.  

Health Secretary Bob Williams confirmed the mammogram machine would be fully funded by the Cook Islands government.

TMO Ministry for Health Director of Hospital Health Services Dr Yin Yin May said the machine is a Mammomat Revelation for tomosynthesis.

The machine is designed to detect breast cancer earlier, and help women stay healthy.

It was sourced from technology company Siemens and the quote TMO received was for $300,000 NZD, exclusive of duties and taxes.

“During this time TMO is encouraging and educating the women for self-breast examination, if anything unusual we can provide ultra sound and biopsy for confirmation of breast lumps,” Dr May said.

Williams confirmed the current machine was not working to its full capacity, reaching its end of shelf life - meaning that parts would no longer be available from the manufacturers.

“Thus TMO is sourcing a replacement that is current and updated to date.”

With this, he said: “TMO expects to offer mammogram screening as early as 2024.”

It is understood screening used to take place around this time of the year.

Last year, 809 women attended a four-week mammogram screening from August to September 13 at the Rarotonga Hospital.

It had been extended due to Covid-19, to cover the backlog from the previous two years.

From the 809 women, five per cent required additional mammographic and ultrasound. 14 women had ultrasound guided biopsy procedures while 11 women were referred to New Zealand for further treatment- most were already TM referrals.

And 46 women from the Pa Enua islands of Aitutaki, Mangaia, Mitiaro, Mauke, Atiu and Penrhyn had attended the mammogram screenings.

Williams said there would always be women (existing and new) to screen every year. 

“Those that turn 40 will be new clients with two year follow ups. Pa Enua high risk women will be invited to participate when the screening is available.”

He said that all the women who were referred to New Zealand had received appropriate treatment and records showed a greater 95 per cent successful rate.

Williams said that mammogram screening is not only just taking the pictures – it also needs to be interpreted by a breast physician.

“The sonographer, the person conducting the screening, must do at least 1000 screenings a year to be accredited. 

“No breast physician or radiologist will read the films and interpret the findings if the sonographer is not accredited.”

Dr May said TMO would also like to advise women who notice unusual findings, in the breast, like lumps/pains/discharge, apart from milk, to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Also those due to turn 40 in 2024 are encouraged to book for mammogram screening when the service is available.