The Ability to Look: Management of Breast Disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Using Smart Ultrasound Technology

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Background: The vast majority of women with breast cancer in sub-Saharan Africa present with advanced stage disease, due primarily to the lack of opportunities for early detection and treatment. As part of a larger effort to increase access to diagnostic and therapeutic services for women's cancers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we implemented a curriculum to train the local workforce and a program to build the supportive infrastructure for the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer at a private sector health facility (Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital) in Kinshasa. Study design: After onsite trainings in the DRC by a US breast surgeon (RT), Congolese surgeons, general physicians, physician assistants, and nurses used the Phillips Lumify smart-phone ultrasound device to perform and interpret the results of whole breast ultrasound on symptomatic women. Surgeons were trained to perform ultrasound-guided core needle biopsy on those who met the criteria for tissue diagnosis, after which they trained nurses to do the same. Results: Over 3 years, 5,211 patients were identified as having a breast abnormality on clinical breast examination. Ultrasound abnormalities were noted in 1,493 (27%) patients, of which 632 (42%) met the criteria for ultrasound-guided core needle biopsy or fine needle aspiration. Pathology reports were available on 368 (58%) patients who underwent biopsy, of which 164 were malignant and 204 benign. Conclusions: We demonstrated how the “ability to look” using smart technology can be successfully used to augment clinical breast exam and triage patients for biopsy in a resource-constrained African setting.

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