An iBreastExam (iBE) pilot project was launched in 2018 by a charity called Women in Need (WIN) in the Indian rural district of Wardha where no such screening programs have previously been conducted. The project is supported by the Grand Commandery of the Castello (GCC), a jurisdiction of the Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem, based in Mensija, San Gwann.

The Grand Commandery’s Hospitaller Chev Paul Warren said: “Two years ago, we had decided to raise funds from among our membership to donate the iBE together with two cartridges capable of performing 4000 scans to WIN with the aim of decreasing the mortality rate in the two areas where WIN operates. The high mortality rate in these areas is mainly due to the lack of awareness and delay in both screening and diagnosis. Through this donation, we are helping WIN to save lives.”

In the last two years, the iBE was conducted across 21 villages in that district, screening 2,000 women. Ten women (0.5%) were detected with early stage breast cancer, for which they have received successful treatment. Given the current low survival rate in India, this is a very good result.

Leah Pattison, founder of WIN which assists also female lepers, said: “If we compare these figures with the numbers of women with cancer referred to WIN from the Government Medical College Hospital (GMCH) in Nagpur, where our charity is also operational, we find that out of the 156 women referred in 2018-2019, 61 had breast cancer, which is 40%. All of these women had 3rd or 4th stage breast cancer.

“Whilst the 0.5% detected out of a population of 2,000 screened in Wardha is difficult to compare with 40% of breast cancer cases referred out of 152 women already receiving treatment for the disease, we are able to see from the data so far, that the risk of developing breast cancer is greater for women living in Nagpur city.”

Asked what is the way forward for the iBreastExam project, Ms Pattison proposed that “given the cost of the cartridges and the information we now have, it would be useful to utilise the remainder of the second cartridge (1,600 scans) in the working class communities in Nagpur and then compare the difference in prevalence between the two environments. In doing so, we can make a better judgement on where the IBE, donated by our Grand Commandery of the Castello friends in Malta, can be more effective in saving lives.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Indian women in India, the most prevalent cancer in most cities and the second most common in rural India. More than 50% of breast cancer patients in India are suffering from stage 3 and 4, where the chances of survival are extremely low.

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