Background: Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, a global region where opportunities for breast care of any type are extremely limited due to insufficient infrastructure, a paucity of clinical services and vast shortages of trained human resources.
Methods: A team of Zambian and US gynaecologic and breast oncology experts and nurse-specialists made multiple visits (each lasting 5 working days) to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), over a 2-year period. During each of five week-long site visits, hands-on training of local Congolese health providers was conducted during which time they were taught clinical breast exam (CBE), breast and axillary ultrasound, ultrasound-guided core needle biopsy/fine needle aspiration (FNA) and breast surgery. Simultaneous with the training exercises, a new breast care clinic was established and operationalised, and existing surgical theatres were upgraded. All activities were implemented in a private sector health care facility – Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital – in the capital city of Kinshasa.
Results: From April 2017 to August 2020, a total of 5,211 women were identified as having breast abnormalities on CBE. Ages ranged from 26 to 86 years; median age: 42.0 (±14.1) years. Ultrasound abnormalities were noted in 1,420 (27%) clients, of which 516 (36%) met the criteria (indeterminate cystic lesion, solid or suspicious masses) for ultrasound-guided core needle biopsy or FNA. Pathology reports were available for 368 (71%) of the 516 clients who underwent biopsy, of which 164 were malignant and 204 benign. The majority (88%) of the cancers were advanced (TNM stages 3 and 4). Surgical procedures consisted of 183 lumpectomies, 58 modified radical mastectomies and 45 axillary lymph node dissections. Clinical competency for diagnostic and surgical procedures was reached early in the course of the training programme.
Conclusion: By integrating onsite training with simultaneous investments in clinical service and infrastructure development, the barriers to breast cancer diagnosis and treatment were disrupted and a modern breast care service platform was established in a private sector health care facility in the DRC.