FREEPORT, Grand Bahama – The Bahamas is the only nation in the region equipped with a digital mammogram machine to allow for the early detection of breast cancer.
Health Minister, Dr. Perry Gomez, made that observation Oct. 24, 2013 at the commissioning of the new Hologic Selena Dimensions Digital Mammography Machine, at the Rand Memorial Hospital.
This is the second such machine in The Bahamas. Dr. Gomez just recently commissioned similar equipment at the Princess Margaret Hospital.
Speaking to a gathering of health officials, insurance executives, breast cancer survivors and other invited guests in the Foyer of the Rand Memorial Hospital, Dr. Gomez noted that the government’s Charter for Governance, identified the need to acquire needed cancer screening technology, at both the Rand Hospital and the Princess Margaret.
He pointed out that breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer related deaths for women worldwide, and is the number one killer in females in The Bahamas.
Dr. Gomez also informed that another area that they have put on the agenda for women’s health is acquiring the HPV vaccine.
He explained that it is an expensive vaccine that is now available in the private sector of the medical practice in The Bahamas, and is only available in that sector because of the cost associated with the medicine.
Dr Gomez said the Pan American Health Organisation has been approached to help in the acquisition of the HPV vaccine, through the revolving fund of PAHO, where the vaccines are obtained at discounted prices.
“It is through this particular fund that the success in preventive medicine throughout this hemisphere is attributed,” said Dr. Gomez. He said the PAHO revolving fund makes the vaccine cheaper and affordable to developing countries like The Bahamas.
“So just wait, coming soon, universal HPV vaccine for all girls, and to truly eradicate this virus you must immunise boys as well, because women get the virus from the boys, so you can’t just do it by immunising the women,” he said.
Again focusing on breast cancer, Dr. Gomez said it has touched the lives of families throughout the country, including himself, saying he lost a niece at the tender age of 37 to the ailment.
He noted that breast cancer specialist Dr. Judith Hurley of the University of Miami in her research on breast cancer in The Bahamas, determined that The Bahamas has the highest incidence of inherited breast cancer in the world, and that the average age of women at the time they are diagnosed with the disease is lower than that of women in the united States.
It was pointed out that there is a 20-years age difference, when diagnosed, between women in the United States, who are generally diagnosed at age 62, and Bahamian women, who are diagnosed at the average age of 42.
Dr. Gomez also revealed that a recent study showed that breast cancer manifests earlier in Bahamians due to a genetic mutation of the BRAC1 and BRAC2 gene.
He said The Bahamas has breast cancer in persons aged 20 because of genes, “and so when people talk about there are some things we have to do in terms of setting guidelines for treatment of breast cancer, which means and includes when do you start screening for breast cancer, that is determined by what is happening in your own population.
“And so, we cannot adopt the United States recommendation to start screening at age 40, my niece was dead at age 37, and so we have to start screening earlier, and screening must be done with the state-of-the-art machinery so that we can detect lumps before you can feel them.
“That is the advantage of this machine. The machine can detect lumps before you can feel it and so you get a biopsy and get started on treatment and be cured,” he stated.
The Health Minister reminded all that early detection is the key to saving life and that education of women and men is a must.