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Study examines factors that influence breast cancer screenings in sub-Saharan Africa

Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine conducted a study to better understand why breast cancer has become the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in sub-Saharan Africa. They said that early detection of cancers is crucial in increasing the odds of survival and that women in developing countries may face barriers in securing affordable, routine care. .

Djibril Ba, an Epidemiology PhD student at the College of Medicine, led a team of researchers that reviewed cancer screening data from more than 39,000 women, 15 to 49 years old, living in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Namibia, to determine if they ever had a clinical breast examination, ultrasound or mammogram from 2010 to 2014. They examined several sociodemographic and socioeconomic factors that could impact a woman’s access to screenings including health insurance, higher education, marital status, employment and family size.

The researchers found that the majority of women had jobs (61.3%) and lived in rural areas (52.4%). Even though the majority of women were from wealthy households (51.5%) and many (43%) had a secondary education, about 90% of the study participants did not have health insurance. Although the majority (59.7%) visited a health care facility within the past 12 months, researchers found that the overall screening rate (12.9%), was generally low and varied by region. The Ivory Coast had the lowest prevalence (5.2%), while Namibia had the highest (23.1%).

Ba found that women who underwent screenings shared common characteristics such as age, wealth, education and insurance coverage. Women with health insurance and from a higher socioeconomic status were more likely to have breast cancer screenings. Women who had a higher education were two times more likely to have screenings. Participants 35 to 49 years old were 73% more likely to be screened for breast cancer than younger women.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is one of the most comprehensive studies, and perhaps the biggest to date, to examine the prevalence and determinants of breast cancer screenings across multiple SSA countries,” said Ba. “The low prevalence of breast cancer screening among women in this region is concerning and suggests that there is a group of women who remain unscreened with an increased risk of breast cancer.”

The researchers emphasized the importance of early detection and educating women about cancer and breast health and said that targeted interventions could help improve cancer awareness and survival rates among women living in SSA. They said that women, especially those living in rural areas, could benefit from widespread information on breast cancer, screening services and how to access routine, preventive care.

Paddy Ssentongo, Edeanya Agbese and Yanxu Yang of Penn State College of Medicine; Ramata Cisse of Stony Brook University; Brehima Diakite, Cheick Bougadari Traore, Bakarou Kamate, Yaya Kassogue, Guimogo Dolo and Hama Diallo of University of Sciences Techniques and Technologies of Bamako; and Etienne Dembele and Mamoudou Maiga of Northwestern University also contributed to this research.

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