In total, 360 women between the ages of 50 and 65, from the borough of Alcoutim, have been called up to be screened under the new programme, a process that is expected to take nine days to complete.
The unit will then leave Alcoutim on September 29, making its way to Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António, before proceeding westerly, with stops at Centros de Saúde right across the Algarve.
64,000 women will be screened
According to figures supplied by the Administração Regional de Saúde do Algarve (ARSA), around 64,000 women in the Algarve will be screened under the new programme – at present, around 30 women will be seen each day at the unit, but the future objective is to increase this number to 50. Another long-term aim will also be to widen the age bracket of women to be screened and this will be dependent on the necessary medical resources being in place.
Transport is being offered by local câmaras to bring the women to each borough’s main Centro de Saúde so that they can have a mammogram performed at the mobile unit. At Alcoutim, coaches were being run twice a day, bringing ladies from the areas of Giões, Pereiro, Vaqueiros and Martim Longo.
On arrival at the health centre in Alcoutim on Monday, AOA volunteer Maria de Lurdes Pereira was on hand to calm any nerves and explain exactly how the programme works. However, the women were not anxious. “They were calm but curious,” said Maria de Lurdes, speaking to The Resident.
The ladies were also visibly cheered by some delicious homemade cakes provided by AOA volunteer Maria Teresa Santos to celebrate the unit’s first day in service. Also, in order to mark this important development in healthcare for the Algarve, the very first lady to have a mammogram at the mobile unit, 64-year-old Claudina Martins Silvestre from Cortes Pereiras, in Alcoutim, was presented with a special diploma.
How does the programme work?
Patient lists are compiled by the ARSA, according to the records kept at each borough’s Centro de Saúde – women within the age range of 50-65 are sent a letter to their home address at least one week prior to their proposed screening date.
On arrival at the Centro de Saúde, ladies are given a questionnaire to fill in relating to their medical history. These questionnaires have been carefully developed by the University of the Algarve (Escola Superior de Saúde de Faro – School of Health).
The university has also been involved in the community awareness campaigns to inform women in advance about the new screening programme. Students from the Intervenção Comunitária course of the Escola Superior de Educação (a social studies course), closely supervised by the AOA, visit Centros de Saúde to deliver leaflets and posters, and talk to the centres’ staff about the screening programme, before the arrival of the mobile mammography unit.
Does it hurt?
When a mammogram is taken, it does not cause pain. It is merely a little uncomfortable for a few seconds, while the plates are being carefully positioned – something that is important for a clear image to be taken.
After the mammogram has been made at the unit, a communication will be sent by post. If any abnormalities are detected or should the results not be clear, a letter is sent within 15 days requesting the lady to attend a hospital appointment where she will be given a further mammogram.
On that day, the doctor will inform the patient if the all clear can be given or explain the treatment plan to be followed. Should the results of the initial mammogram at the mobile unit prove negative, women will be notified of the result within 30 days. If negative, the women will remain on the programme – the plan being for them to be called for screening every two years. However, monthly self examination is also strongly recommended in between visits to the unit, to ensure no lumps or abnormalities have appeared.
When the AOA set up the screening programme, an agreement was signed with the ARSA and the hospitals of the Sotavento and Barlavento, in order to ensure that those women identified through the programme as needing medical intervention, such as surgery, will receive the necessary treatment.
The AOA’s new radiotherapy unit in Faro will also play a role in the treatment of women diagnosed with breast cancer through the programme. It is hoped the radiotherapy unit will open at the end of this year – the council inspection is due to take place on September 28. Members of the AOA (membership is just 12 euros per annum) also have free access to a team of professional psychologists.
Five to six women die of breast cancer daily in Portugal
The idea for the mobile unit is seven years old and the AOA, a charitable institution that was first formed back in 1994, was determined that the Algarve must have this service, in order to wage a more effective war against breast cancer, a disease that is currently responsible for the deaths of between five and six women every day in Portugal.
How did the mobile mammography unit become a reality?
Thanks to the enormous amount of funds raised by the Mamamaratona fun runs (a fifth run will be taking place on October 16 this year in Portimão – more information to follow soon), it was possible to make a large contribution towards the purchase of the digital mobile mammography unit, equipment that has cost almost half a million euros.
played a big part
The AOA is very grateful to the international community for their support in making this happen and Tonneke Beysens of The Netherlands, who has now settled in the Algarve and is vice president of the Mamamaratona Committee, was present in Alcoutim to witness the first day of the screening programme first hand.
“We would never have been able to have got this screening programme off the ground if it wasn’t for the support and enthusiasm of the foreign community, people like Cynthia Williams and Tonneke, among many others. The Resident has also been a good support,” said Maria de Lurdes Pereira.
Early detection is critical to the chances of survival
Breast cancer is one of the main causes of death among Portuguese women aged between 40 and 50 years old (Registo Oncológico 1993) and every year in Portugal there are 4,000 new cases, a statistic which is constantly increasing. The good news, however, is that more than 90 per cent of cases are curable, but only if detected early. With early detection, mortality rates can be reduced by 20 per cent.
Mammography is the main means of diagnosis – it uses x rays (in a low dose) and is very precise, allowing lumps to be detected when they are just a few millimetres in size.
It is essential for women to be screened regularly and the AOA advises a visit every year to the doctor for an examination as well as adherence to a screening programme. This is aside from regular self examination.
If you would like more information about the AOA and its work please visit www.aoa.pt or call Tel: 289 807 531. Caroline Cunha