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East Africa's first 3D mammograms boosts fight against breast cancer

The fight against breast cancer has just been taken to the next level with the introduction of East Africa's first 3D mammography system at the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

A mammogram is an x-ray image used to detect lumps, tiny deposits of calcium known as calcifications, and other distortions of breast tissue. The system was launched on September 13, 2019, and means Tanzania is the only country in East Africa that can boast with this technology. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Tanzania is the second country to employ this technology after it was first introduced in South Africa.

According to Dr Daisy Majamba, speaking on behalf of Dar Es Salaam’s regional medical officer, Yudas Ndungile, breast cancer is the second highest cause of cancer-related deaths among women in Tanzania. Cervical cancer is first.

In Africa, however, breast cancer is the leading cause of death, with cervical cancer coming in second. "The launch of the digital mammography system is a huge milestone in the country's public-private partnerships in the fight against cancer," Majamba said.


What difference does a 3D mammogram make?

A 3D mammogram consists of multiple images showing slices of breast tissue. These are then brought together to recreate a 3D image of the breast. While an ordinary mammogram only has one layer of information, the multiple slices from 3D scans give doctors an even clearer image of the tissues and any abnormalities that may be present.

This technology also has the additional benefit of higher accuracy for detecting abnormalities in women with dense breast tissue. In traditional mammogram images, dense breast tissue often looks white - the same colour as lumps, tumours and calcifications. This makes the images harder to read and interpret, which means that follow-up tests are usually required.

Image: Wendie Berg

According to estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer there were 168 690 new cases of breast cancer reported in African females of all ages in 2018. Catching cancer early is critical. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), early identification means that patients are more likely to respond to treatment and have a greater chance of survival.

Data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer predicts that by the year 2035, Africa will see a rise in deaths from breast cancer by more than 58% - meaning that just over 127 000 women will be affected.

Estimated number of breast cancer deaths from 2018 to 2040 for females of all ages

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