UMHS students and faculty helped shine light on a deadly disease during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The UMHS community joined together to help fight in numerous ways, with the African and Caribbean Students Association (ACSA) holding a breast cancer screening clinic for students and staff, and the UMHS Staff Committee holding a “Pink Friday” fundraiser on October 26, 2018.
The UMHS Endeavour looks at the highlights of this important month. We spoke with some of the amazing UMHS students involved about ways future doctors at Caribbean medical schools can help combat the problem via regular screening and surveillance for women of all ages and races.
ACSA Holds Breast Cancer Screening for Students & Staff
The UMHS ACSA observed Breast Cancer Awareness Month by conducting a breast cancer screening clinic for all students and staff. ACSA Vice President Eboni Peoples said the clinic was organized and conducted by EBS2 and EBS5 students, all trained by UMHS professor Dr. Mohan Kumar a few days beforehand.
“October has been a critical and effective means to promote awareness of breast cancer issues,” Ms. Peoples said. “Yet the number of cases for African-American women remains higher than that of any other demographic. Our screening clinic served as the first step in early detection of breast cancer in an effort to reduce the disparity.”
ACSA provided breast examination and education in the Simulation Lab on the UMHS campus on Tuesday, October 23, 2018.
“Each medical student had 3-4 patients and took history, performed the examination and provided counsel,” Ms. Peoples said. “This was a very successful and fulfilling event and I look forward to holding a screening once a semester.”
African-American Women at Highest Risk
African-American women have one of the greatest risks of dying from breast cancer, studies show, and often receive “suboptimal breast cancer surveillance,” noted a report in The Oncologist.
UMHS student and ACSA President Kendra Obimah offered her thoughts on women at highest risk for breast cancer.
“Caucasian women are at higher risk of developing breast cancer; however African-American women are at greater risk of dying from breast cancer and their cancer is usually more aggressive,” Ms. Obimah said. “I think this is due the fact that there is less access to healthcare in underserved communities. Also, you would be surprised on how many people are unaware of the clinical signs of breast cancer and wait till their symptoms worsen. Therefore, medical students like ourselves should make an effort to reach out to these communities. We should take the time to provide breast cancer screenings as well as educate the community of signs and symptoms of breast cancer. I think education is critical in the fight against breast cancer. I also think that self- examinations should be stressed more from physicians.”
Start Screening in Your 20s
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandated that health insurance plans should start paying for women to get mammograms at age 40, but many believe women should get screened for breast cancer much earlier. UMHS student and ACSA Secretary Sabrina Chacko said she believes women should start screening for breast cancer in their 20s and no later than age 30.
“Breast cancer screening should be individualized to each person’s personal risk,” Ms. Chacko said. “Just because it is rare for women in their 20s to get breast cancer does not mean they cannot get checked and be aware. I believe self-exams and clinical screenings are important because younger women tend to ignore warning signs; such as lumps, masses, or unusual discharge. They can assume that these lumps are harmless cysts and do a waiting game to see if it is anything abnormal or serious. Early detection can definitely increase a woman’s chance of surviving breast cancer as they can get prompt treatment.”
UMHS ACSA Vice President Eboni Peoples echoed these sentiments.
“Primary prevention has not been the traditional way of healthcare in the U.S.,” Ms. Peoples said. “Allowing early detection of screening and health education will ultimately decrease the incidence of breast cancer in women. I believe if more insurance companies provided coverage to younger women interested in seeking a mammogram, early diagnosis and treatment will decrease the future healthcare cost and improve quality of life for the individual. Inadequate insurance coverage remains a topic of health disparities that continues to affect thousands of Americans. As the epidemiology of breast cancer suggest 1 in 8 women developing an invasive breast cancer, age should not be a factor in which an insurance company denies a preventive service.”
Students at Caribbean Medical Schools Set Example
Students at U.S. and Caribbean medical schools can help set a good example for women everywhere for early detection, said UMHS student Ashley Carter.
“It is imperative for medical students and women working in medicine to set an example regarding breast cancer screenings because it does two important things: raises breast care awareness and help enhance one’s knowledge surrounding effective teaching methods,” Ms. Carter said. “Medical students and women working in medicine spend a great amount of time in the hospital. It increases the chances for female and male patients to participate in breast cancer screenings if they witness medical staff taking screenings seriously. Also, med students and women working in medicine participation, enhances their own knowledge surrounding breast cancer.”
Kerthy Sugunathevan, also a UMHS student and ACSA Treasurer, said self-breast examinations are one of the easiest ways for women to catch breast cancer early.
“By providing women the education on how to perform self-breast examinations, we give them the ability to pick up on any changes, or concerns they may have and then seek medical attention more quickly,” she said. “The power of education goes beyond gaining knowledge, it can empower woman and the hope is that they will perform self-breast examinations regularly and they will pass this information on to the next generation and so on. We hope by teaching woman how to perform self-breast examinations that we are moving forward in the shift towards pro-active medicine.”
‘Pink Friday’ Fundraiser
Some of the awareness activities were also for sheer fun—while helping the cause and raising money. The UMHS Staff Committee held the first-ever Pink Friday fundraiser on October 26, 2018, with a special prize for the “Pinkest Dressed!”
“Various pink ribbon-themed deserts and lemonade were sold, as the school body gathered in support of this wonderful cause,” said UMHS student and Media Ambassador Deser’e Gitulli. Ms. Gitulli covered the event for the UMHS Instagram page.
More Photos from ‘Pink Friday’ at UMHS
Built in the tradition of the best U.S. universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciences focuses on individualized student attention, small class sizes and recruiting high-quality faculty. For these reasons, UMHS is quickly becoming the school of choice among Caribbean medical schools.