Providing screening for breast cancer in remote rural areas of the Eastern Cape

Written by Dr. Zukiswa Jafta (Founder of the Beat! Cancer Foundation)

Breast cancer screening entails self-breast examination in pursuit of an abnormality in a normal breast.  In order to identify any abnormality, you need to first be familiar with ‘the normal breast anatomy and examination’. It tends to be easier for women who are literate to follow instructions and demonstrations, but for women in rural communities we serve, mostly illiterate, following demonstrations on self-breast examination becomes a huge task, starting from teaching them anatomy of their own breast.

Firstly, we have to overcome issues of access to their areas by travelling long distances in the most rural roads with poor infrastructure to conduct cancer awareness services. Once there to communicate in their language the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and why it’s important to screen for it. A painless breast lump is what we find mostly, and the majority is not bothered by it.  You can agree with them “if it’s not painful, maybe it can wait another time”. By the time they present to health centre the cancer has progressed. That when the education starts.

What to do if notice worrying breast change

Encouraged to inform community health care workers who are trained to identify abnormal signs of breast cancer who will escort them to the clinic or attend local clinic.

Coping with breast cancer post diagnosis

  • Provision of social support counselling service for ensuring good survivorship and support family
  • Appointment card with chemotherapy dates issued to book ambulance for next visit.
  • Provision of ongoing nutritional care on importance of diet. Family and patient counselled and offered familiar foods and supplements.

Approach used to reach the communities

  • The local chief mostly holds the venue for the awareness campaigns
  • We use a multidisciplinary team to support awareness campaigns.
  • Use of local language to educate about breast cancer
  • Working with breast cancer survivor to give a talk also in local language sharing experiences about her journey
  • Demonstration of breast cancer prosthesis used and how they fit into the woman’s bra
  • Talk around self-esteem support and importance of disclosure to family with our socio-support program


Breast cancer lumps palpated are referred to hospital directly for biopsy. On receiving positive results patients are counselled prior to any surgery about any other treatment (chemotherapy or radiotherapy) that may be given. Most women on treatment in our centre were identified through these campaigns


One stop solutions should be offered to assist to speed up diagnosis breast cancer. it is possible to catch the disease and offer curative treatment.


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