Breast Cancer Screenings Plummet During Pandemic

By Santhiyah Chandran & Murniati Abu Karim
Photo Shahiddan Saidi

Breast cancer screening tests, including mammogram, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures, were delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, Malaysia included.

Healthcare professionals are concerned about the long-term effects of delays in screenings and treatments for breast cancer patients.

Realising the urgency of breast cancer screening awareness among women during Covid-19 era, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) hosted a public webinar in collaboration with the Radiology Department of Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz, UKM (HCTM) and Fujifilm Asia Pacific Healthcare Learning Academy.

The webinar featured highly renowned speakers from related field namely Dr. Rizuana Iqbal Husain, HCTM Senior Consultant Radiologist, HCTM Senior Consultant Breast Surgeon Prof. Norlia Abdullah and Head of Radiology Department from the Faculty of Medicine Hospital Universiti Teknologi Mara, Dr. Marlina Tanty Ramli Hamid.

During a keynote titled Handling Mammogram Screening during Covid-19, Dr. Marlina explained that mammogram and breast ultrasound require extremely close contact with patients with no possibility of physical distancing.

“During these procedures, patients will be as close as 30 centimetres from the radiologist or radiographer, increasing the risk of Covid-19 infection.

“At the onset of Covid-19, breast cancer screenings took a sizeable hit as they were considered as elective procedures. Therefore, mammograms and breast ultrasounds were delayed or cancelled in order to prioratise high emergency cases,” she said.

She emphasised the continuity for breast cancer screenings as they can be life-threatening when left untreated although normal breast imaging procedures are unlikely to happen in the near future.

Navigating these challenges requires clear guideline and precautionary steps, she said.

“We have to focus on Covid-19 pre-screening via phone calls or online. Later, patients will be screened again at the time of their visit. Those who have recently travelled, have had close contact with Covid-19 patients, or are experiencing mild symptoms should be rescheduled for two weeks later, once their symptoms have resolved.

“All medical staff must wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) if physical distancing is not possible, while patients should always a mask on,” she added.

She also emphasised that women should get a mammogram before the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine or four to six weeks after the second dose.

The webinar which took place on Zoom meeting platform aimed at raising public awareness about early breast cancer screening, breast self-examination, and how early detection can save the lives of many women.

Also present at the webinar was UKM Deputy Vice Chancellor Industry, Alumni and Community Partnerships Prof. Dato’ Dr. Norazah Mohd Nordin and Director of UKM-Fujifilm Asia Pacific Healthcare Learning Academy Takuma Otsuka.