Manaus, 11 February 2022 (TDI): Due to the installation of two new mammography devices on Brazilian navy ships, women in Amazon River towns have improved access to breast cancer screening along the river’s most remote banks.

It is hoped that the mammography equipment purchased by the United Nations-backed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will improve the current capabilities for such examinations in remote locations.

One of the ships, Soares de Meirelles, has already begun providing services in the vital South American canal, and the second, Carlos Chagas, will do so shortly.

Significance of screening

In Brazil, breast cancer accounts for more than 30% of all malignancies, with approximately 40% of patients only being diagnosed during the early stages of the disease.

During the screening, malignancies are detected at an early developmental stage, when they can be most effectively treated. An X-ray is used in the initial stage of the screening (mammogram).

The two additional pieces of equipment allow each ship to conduct up to 1,000 such screenings per year. In a statement, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi stressed the importance of screening in the worldwide fight against cancer.

Planned Trips

In 2022, the two ships will make eight cruises of up to 45 days each. From the Amazon River delta, they will travel to the borders of Colombia, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela, where such services would help the local populations.

Due to their design, naval ships are able to navigate narrow and shallow waterways, allowing them to deliver healthcare directly to the women living along the rivers’ banks.

Previously, women in the Amazon River region could only receive mammograms by travelling to the nearest health centre, which could take several days.

Women in Tabatinga, near the border with Peru and Colombia, for example, had to travel 1,600 kilometres over seven days to obtain such screening services at the healthcare facility in Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas.

Upstream Expansion

Courtesy of the Navy Nuclear Development Director, a mammography machine aboard the Brazilian naval cruiser Carlos Chagas.

The IAEA Technical Cooperation Programme purchased and installed the two mammography systems on the ships in 2021. The agency also provided cash for training workers to operate the equipment.

The Brazilian naval cruiser Carlos Chagas.
The Brazilian naval cruiser Carlos Chagas.

Despite the COVID-19 epidemic, Soares de Meirelles managed to conduct around 300 mammograms in ten towns in October 2021.

The IAEA’s assistance in enhancing worldwide cancer treatment access includes providing cancer screening services to one of the world’s most remote places.

Rays of Hope

Rays of Hope, a new initiative launched by the agency last week, helps the Member States by providing diagnosis and treatment using a variety of radiation technologies, starting with African countries in need.

Radiation services are incorporated into comprehensive national cancer control strategies with the assistance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It also provides training for nuclear and radiation medical personnel, technical advising services, and assistance with equipment finance and acquisition.