Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) in Thimphu, for the first time, will provide mammography services to women patients.

The service is expected to be in operation by the end of this month.

Last week, the Japanese government gave seven medical equipment for the national and regional referral hospitals in the country, which includes a mammography machine for the national referral hospital in Thimphu.

A radiologist with the national referral hospital, Dr Deki Choden, said mammography is a type of X-ray where low energy X-rays is used. It is used mainly for the imaging of the breast.

The machine costs about Nu 39 million.

Dr Deki Choden said that mammography is used both for screening purpose and diagnosis. It is also used for follow-up cases.

Screening mammogram is for those women aged above 40 to 50 years irrespective of any symptoms. The X-ray images often make it possible to detect tumours that cannot be felt. It can also find microcalcifications that are tiny deposits of calcium that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer.

A diagnostic mammogram is for those patients who visit the hospital with certain features like nipple discharge, breast pain and lumps.

“The cases which we diagnose here are all symptomatic cases where patients come with nipple discharge or a lump, among other symptoms,” Dr Deki Choden said.

About 73 breast cancer cases were detected in the last five years, which means 14 cases are detected in a year.

This year, 39 breast cancer cases were detected to date.

Two technicians from the radiodiagnosis and imaging department will undergo a two-week training in Bangkok, Thailand. “We can start the service after they come back,” she said.

She said the service would benefit the women across the country but they should come forward for screening and diagnosis. “Maybe in a later phase, we can work together with the reproductive health unit and ultrasound unit where they can screen the patients and send to us for mammography.”

If a woman without any signs of the disease wants to screen for breast cancer, then they can consult a physician and, upon the physician’s advice, they can be referred to the radiodiagnosis and imaging department for mammography.

Health Secretary Dr Ugen Dophu during the handing taking of the medical equipment  at JDWNRH last week, said the mammography machine would improve women’s health by detecting breast cancer at an early and curable stage thereby reducing the death due to breast cancer.

Dr Deki Choden said Tomosynthesis is an advanced mammography where early signs of cancer could be diagnosed in women without any symptoms of the disease.

If a breast cancer is detected early with screening mammography, she said treatment can be started earlier in the course of the disease before it has spread. This would also reduce the referral costs.

Dr Deki Choden said that in other counties cervical cancer used to be the topmost cancers among the women. After breast cancer screening services were initiated in those countries, breast cancer is the topmost cancer among the women.

Currently, in Bhutan, she said breast cancer is the fifth common cancer among the women. With the breast cancer screening services available in the country, it is expected to detect more cases of breast cancers in the country.

Dechen Tshomo