World Cancer Day: Montenegro Improves Early Breast Cancer Detection

Montenegro’s Minister of Science Sanja Vlahovic and Minister of Health Budimir Segrt during the opening ceremony of a mammography unit provided by the IAEA, Podgorica, Montenegro, May 2015 (Photo: PR Service Government of Montenegro)

Breast cancer is by far the most frequent cancer among women, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. Early diagnosis is key to effective treatment, and can prevent deaths in many cases. Montenegro, a country where breast cancer is one of the most frequent causes of mortality, is working with the IAEA to strengthen early breast cancer detection and diagnosis.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer 27.6 women per 100 000 died from breast cancer in Montenegro in 2012, compared to 22.4 in the European Union. In 2012, 26% of the women diagnosed with cancer in Montenegro suffered from breast cancer, and approximately 18% died from the disease. Breast cancer is overall the most common cancer in Montenegro.

“For us, women, it is important to find courage to face this illness. This will help us to prevent it and take responsibility for our own health,” said Minister of Science Sanja Vlahovic.

Population screening

Many women in the early stages of breast cancer show no physical symptoms. Without early screening programmes in place, breast cancer is only diagnosed at a later stage, after the symptoms have appeared.

Last year, the Ministry of Health received support from the IAEA for a breast cancer screening initiative in the capital, Podgorica. The country has upgraded its breast cancer detection methods and equipment, and has trained staff in mammography, a type of medical imaging technique that uses low-energy X-rays to examine the human breast. The screening programme is now in place, to serve as a pilot for nationwide rollout. In the past eight months, since the opening of the new Breast Imaging Centre, health professionals have carried out 1,267 mammographies, 128 of which have detected findings suspicious of cancer.

Margaret Ann Uyehara, Ambassador of the United States of America in Montenegro during the opening ceremony of a mammography unit provided by the IAEA, Podgorica, Montenegro, May 2015 (Photo: PR Service Government of Montenegro)

From film to digital

The IAEA also provided a modern, digital mammography unit and other equipment to the Breast Cancer Diagnostic Centre, and offered, in total, 10 months of specialized training to fellows and scientific visitors, including radiologists, radiographers and medical physicists.

Health professionals in Montenegro used to rely on screen-film mammography to detect cancer. Digital mammography offers new, more sensitive and effective tools to better capture and display areas of contrasting densities, improving diagnosis.

The IAEA has also supported the development of a quality assurance and control programme to ensure that breast imaging is performed safely and effectively, said Harry Delis, the IAEA medical physicist  responsible for this project.

“Roll out of digital mammography, launch of the National Programme for Breast Screening, and getting women screened are priority activities in breast cancer prevention in Montenegro,” said Minister of Health Budimir Segrt. “Screening, guidelines, protocols, standards and procedures are required for good quality care. We owe gratitude to IAEA for assistance in establishing a better health care system for all our citizens”.

Breast cancer will be a topic of discussion in upcoming international events. To mark World Cancer Day, a special occasion taking place every 4 February, the IAEA is organizing a series of events, including a public lecture, an exhibition, and a high-level discussion on 9 February. For more information, visit the IAEA’s World Cancer Day page.

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Last update: 10 March 2016