Cancer Society urges use of mammograms in Cayman

Free vouchers available

The Cayman Islands Cancer Society is reminding women that they don’t have to travel off island to get their mammograms done. 

As breast cancer survivor Amica Samuels demonstrated this week, a digital Hologic mammogram machine, donated to the Cayman Islands Hospital in 2006, quickly and effectively enables women to complete their mammogram examinations locally. 

Mammograms can also be done at the Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital and MedLab. 

Ms Samuels lost one breast to cancer three years ago, at the age of 58 and now requires an annual mammogram of her remaining breast. She did her original mammogram at the hospital, after her doctor advised her to undergo one, after finding a lump in her breast. 

Her single mastectomy and subsequent 17 chemotherapy sessions were all carried out in Cayman. 

“I went to see my regular doctor to get my regular checkup. She examined me and said to me that I needed to get a mammogram done,” said Ms Samuels. 

That was her first mammogram. 

The Cancer Society recommends that women undergo regular mammograms from the age of 40 and provides free mammogram vouchers to women who cannot afford the tests or who do not have the insurance coverage to pay for them.  

Ms Samuels said that, despite having two aunts and two cousins who had breast cancer, she had been reluctant to get a mammogram done prior to being diagnosed. “Probably, I thought it was too much of a hassle,” she admitted, shortly after undergoing a mammogram at the Cayman Islands Hospital radiology department Tuesday morning. 

“But, going through the procedure now, I found out that it’s so quick and easy. It’s nothing to worry about,” she said. 

It took less than half an hour for her to check in at the reception area of the radiology department, filling out a two-page form and complete her examination. 

 

Free exam vouchers 

Over the past year, the Cancer Society has provided 278 mammogram vouchers to women who otherwise could not have afforded to undergo the exams.  

“Early detection saves lives so we want to make sure these tests are available to women who could not afford them without our help,” said Jennifer Weber, operations manager of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society. 

“We pay for the mammogram tests, so it’s an expensive programme to operate… When people donate to the Cancer Society, the voucher programme is one of the initiatives they help us fund,” said Ms Weber. 

The organisation also provided about 350 free vouchers for pap smear tests over the past year. 

Doctors volunteer their time to take the sample and do the exams in the pap smear tests while the Cancer Society pays for the lab work.  

“As with everything we do, we are able to provide this service to people every day because doctors generously give their time and community members generously give their donations to help. Together, we all make a difference in the lives of real people in the community where we live,” said Ms Weber. 

Bras and prostheses 

At the Cancer Society, women can be fitted for prosthetic breasts and brassieres. Those are available for sale, but the Cancer Society also offers financial assistance for women who can’t afford them. 

Myrna Gregson, who is a breast cancer survivor and trained fitter of bras and prostheses for women who have undergone mastectomies, will measure survivors, show them samples and share catalogues from the American Breast Care, which supplies the bras and prostheses. 

She explained that all bras and prostheses are custom ordered for each woman from the United States. “They usually arrive in about two weeks, but are often here within a week,” Ms Gregson said. 

She has fitted dozens of women since she trained as a fitter in 2010. 

Prior to this service becoming available at the Cancer Society in January 2011, many breast cancer survivors who could not afford reconstruction surgery and either could not afford or were not aware of prosthetic breasts, were walking around “with socks or face cloths stuffed in their bras,” said Ms Gregson. 

The statistics for the number of women in the Cayman Islands suffering or who have suffered from breast cancer is unknown as data is still being collected by the recently established Cancer Registry.  

In the United States, according to the American Cancer Society’s estimates for breast cancer in 2011, there were about 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women and 57,650 new cases of carcinoma in situ – the earliest form of breast cancer. About 39,520 women died from breast cancer in the US in 2011. 

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. 

The chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is a little less one in eight, according to medical experts. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about one in 35. In Caribbean women, breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers and one of the leading causes of death from cancer.  

Women who wish to find out more about obtaining a free voucher for mammograms or pap smear can visit the Cayman Islands Cancer Society at 114 Maple Road (beside the Cayman Islands Hospital) between 9am and 4pm, Monday to Friday, or call 949-7618. 

“Early detection saves lives so we want to make sure these tests are available to women who could not afford them without our help.”
Jennifer Weber, Cayman Islands Cancer Society 

mammo machine

Radiographer Nicole Bogle-Stewart prepares Amica Samuels for her mammogram at the radiology department of the Cayman Islands Hospital. – PHOTO: NORMA CONNOLLY