And late last month, the national and provincial health departments launched a cancer campaign to educate people that many cancers were preventable or could be “successfully” treated through early detection and timeous treatment.
However, more concerns about the KwaZulu-Natal oncology crisis have been raised by advocacy groups after revelations that the waiting period for a mammogram screening is currently more than six months.
At least four women have told the Daily News that they will undergo screening between May 9 and 16 next year. Three said they had gone to uMlazi’s Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital “some months ago” concerned about lumps in their breasts, and to their shock were told to return in May next year for mammograms.
The fourth woman had since been told at Port Shepstone Regional Hospital that she had cancer.
Mammograms are a key element in the early diagnosis of breast cancer.
One of the women said: “I went to (Prince) Mshiyeni Memorial after feeling a lump in my breast. I was booked for a mammogram at Addington Hospital on September20, but it was cancelled on the day because there were no doctors.
“I was sent to Port Shepstone Regional Hospital where I was booked for Mshiyeni again for May 2019. If I had money I would go to private specialists and not leave my fate in the hands of a dysfunctional department,” she said.
The department did not respond to a comment request emailed nine days ago.
“We respond to the call by MEC (Sibongiseni) Dhlomo to be proactive and get tested, especially for suspicious bumps in our breasts. Six months is a long time, so one wonders what good it is to come forward, only to wait for such a long time for a procedure. This department is misleading the public when it says there is no oncology crisis in the province,” said another woman.
None of the women wanted to be named.
An employee at Prince Mshiyeni said the facility was “overwhelmed” with a number of unresolved issues.
“As of October 24, ultrasound bookings extended to April 2020, CT scans to June 2019, while mammography and fluoroscopy scanning extend to January and September 2019 respectively.
“The issue lies in the high numbers of patients who require these services, while we are provided with limited resources, which makes it impossible to service the large community that the hospital serves,” said the employee.
Poonitha Naidoo, of the Medical Rights Advocacy Network, said cancers were different and that some were “quick” to develop.
“Some can be in stage 4 in six months, and the most vulnerable are women going through hormonal stages.
“These women need urgent access to credible diagnostic examinations. Needle biopsy (histology tests) to confirm the presence of abnormal cells (cancer) is also required,” Naidoo said.
She said further diagnostic tests might be needed to find out if the cancer had spread.
“The next step will be surgery. Delays at the diagnostic stage could result in more invasive surgery (removal of breast and glands to which cancer has spread).
“The removed lumps must be sent to the National Health Laboratory Service for further pathology tests,” she said.
Lorraine Govender, national advocacy co-ordinator at the Cancer Association of South Africa, said they were aware of the situation and had interviewed some patients.
“Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in South Africa and worldwide. We need to ensure that we have enough resources for early diagnosis and prompt treatment of women. This will ensure an improved quality of life for women affected,” Govender said.
She said some patients interviewed stated that the waiting period was eight months.