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Utahns to Help Fight Breast Cancer in Tanzania

July 9, 2008

By Lisa Rosetta, The Salt Lake Tribune

Jul. 9–It is unknown how many women in Tanzania have breast cancer.

That’s because some of them may be dying of the disease and don’t know it.

While many women in the United States regularly get mammograms — with the hope of catching breast cancer early — Tanzanian women get the low-dose X-rays only after they’ve been diagnosed or have suspicious lumps.

A Salt Lake City doctor who is headed to the east African country this week hopes to change that.

Brett Parkinson, imaging director of breast-care services at Intermountain Medical Center’s breast-care center, will travel to Dar es Salaam on Friday. He and Dianne Kane, nursing director for oncology services, will help start Tanzania’s first breast cancer screening program.

Right now, there is only one functional mammography machine in the entire country, Parkinson said. Breast cancer is the third most common cancer among women there, accounting for 9.3 percent of all cancer seen at the Ocean Road Cancer Institute in Dar es Salaam, according to the Medical Women Association of Tanzania.

About 80 percent of those cases are diagnosed when the cancer is in an advanced stage and not curable. In such cases, the only treatment available in Tanzania is complete removal of the breast — an option many women decline.

“We hope to take the many opportunities we have in the U.S. and share them with our colleagues and with the women of Tanzania — that’s the reason we’re going,” Parkinson said.

The Salt Lake City team’s first goal is to improve screening. By the end of the summer, he said, there will be 10 mammography machines up and running in Tanzania — plus five ultrasound machines, donated by companies Hologic Inc. and Alliance Imaging.

Donations of film, cassettes and other items have also been sent to Tanzania, coordinated by Salt Lake City-based Globus International Relief.

During Parkinson and Kane’s 10-day trip, they’ll teach doctors and technologists how to read mammograms, operate the machines and set up practices for follow-up care. One group of seven Tanzanian doctors have a head start: they visited Salt Lake City in June for about a week’s worth of training on how to read mammograms.

“We tried to show them a spectrum of what they might see there,” he said.

Parkinson and Kane, officers of the East African Breast Care Project, will make subsequent trips to teach surgeons different techniques — such as a lumpectomy — for removing cancer while sparing women’s breasts.

The project began about two years ago, after Southern California trial lawyer James Parkinson — Parkinson’s brother — read about a 39-year-old Tanzanian woman’s losing battle with the disease. James Parkinson is now co-chairman with Mississippi businessman and attorney Wil Colom.

With 10 mammography machines, Parkinson said, about 250 women could be screened a day — just a fraction of those women who need one. But it’s a start, he said.

“Our goal is to not only establish a screening program in Tanzania, but if the need arises — and we’re asked to do more — we’d be happy to take this to other nations in Africa,” he said. “We’re so fortunate in the U.S. to have these resources, it’s incumbent upon us in the United States to share.”

lrosetta@sltrib.com

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