Researchers of the North-West University (NWU) regularly work in communities to improve lives and find solutions to pressing issues. In the fight against breast cancer, a hospital in Potchefstroom has called on the expertise of the Medicine Usage in South Africa (MUSA) research entity in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
Prof Johanita Burger and Dr Jesslee du Plessis, two researchers at MUSA, participated in a study the Potchefstroom Regional Hospital conducted to understand the profile of patients with breast cancer and create a strategy to improve patient care and support to those patients.
Prof Burger is a professor in pharmacy practice and Dr Du Plessis a medical doctor and senior lecturer in clinical pharmacy. Both are experts in pharmacoepidemiological studies and biostatistics.
The study was initiated by the hospital’s former head of surgery, Dr Baudouin Kakudji, who has since passed away, and Dr Prince Mwila, who at the time was working in the surgery department.
Together, they published two research papers on the study: “Epidemiological, clinical and diagnostic profile of breast cancer patients treated at Potchefstroom Regional Hospital, South Africa, 2012–2018: an open-cohort study” was published in 2020, and “Breast cancer molecular subtypes and receptor status among women at Potchefstroom Hospital: a cross-sectional study” in 2021.
Patients wait too long to seek treatment
“Breast cancer is the most commonly treated cancer in female patients at the hospital. Despite all the awareness campaigns and efforts to promote early diagnosis and effective management, patients still only seek medical help at a late stage and many still default on the treatment, which has an impact on their prognosis,” says Prof Burger.
The doctors wanted to establish the typical profile of the hospital’s cancer patients. “Their aim was to provide better treatment and support, and this could only be done by understanding the realities of the patients.”
Prof Burger says the data confirmed what doctors had suspected all along. Patients with breast cancer in the hospital catchment area only seek medical attention in the late stages, indicating a need to enhance breast cancer awareness campaigns.
The role of the NWU experts
Prof Burger, Dr Du Plessis and the doctors at the Potchefstroom Regional Hospital worked as a team on the study. The doctors at the hospital gathered the data, which was drawn from hospital records of patients with primary invasive breast cancer. All the patients were admitted or treated at the hospital between 1 January 2012 and 31 December 2018.
Prof Burger analysed the data and, together with Dr Du Plessis, interpreted it. The team then presented their data in publicly available articles.
Being a regional hospital, the institution services the population of the whole JB Marks Municipality. This includes patients not only from Potchefstroom, but also from surrounding towns such as Carletonville, Fochville and Parys.
In addition, the Potchefstroom Regional Hospital has a breast clinic that has been functioning for several years. Treatment that includes chemotherapy is referred to the Klerksdorp/Tshepong Tertiary Hospital Complex.
The study found that although patients reported at late stages for treatment, the survival rate still looked optimistic. Prof Burger says the results at the end of the study in 2018 showed a survival rate of 82,5% for patients, showing the value of regular follow-up and monitoring after treatment.
Prof Juhanita Burger
Dr Jesslee du Plessis