Does mammographic screening for breast cancer work or not?
This was the question Prof Justus Apffelstaedt of the Division of Surgery in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU), tried to answer on Wednesday (3 February 2016). He was the speaker at the first Stellenbosch Forum lecture of 2016.
The Stellenbosch Forum lecture series provides regular opportunities to staff and students at SU, as well as interested people from the public, to learn more about the relevant and world-class research that is being done at SU.
Apffelstaedt said despite claims that mammographic screening is a waste of time, it does work in South Africa.
"There is no reasonable alternative for mammographic screening. We have shown in accordance with overseas data that by effective screening we will reduce mortality by more than half in those who are actually exposed to screening."
Apffelstaedt said high-quality organised screening could make a difference because it can also help prevent recurrent cancer.
"Too many women in public clinics suffer from recurrent cancer and the treatment of recurrent cancer is futile and expensive."
He said that although mammographic screening works, many women do not go for regular mammograms.
"In South Africa 30% of women that are health insured had a mammogram within the last year."
Apffelstaedt said many women may have various reason for avoiding mammograms.
"We should be cognisant that breast cancer screening is not acceptable for quite a significant part of the population."
Apffelstaedt urged women to have mammograms because breast cancer will become even more common in the near future.
He pointed out that incidences of breast cancer are highest in Gauteng and the Western Cape and said it is important to screen poor women, in particular, since they cannot afford health insurance.
"We should screen close to where women work to increase the rate of screening," Apffelstaedt added.
- Photo: Prof Apffelstaedt speaking at the Stellenbosch Forum lecture.
- Photographer: Hennie Rudman