Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related death for women. In the United States, the median age for breast cancer diagnosis is 61, but in Africa women are diagnosed much younger, with a substantial number of cases affecting women under the age of 20. Even more tragically, although early stage breast cancer cure rates in the US exceed 90%, in Africa, because there are few trained surgeons, breast cancer survival rates are well below 20%.

In July 2014, The Aslan Project launched the Rwanda Breast Cancer Initiative to change this story. In partnership with Partners In Health and leading academic institutions in Rwanda and the United States, our Program Coordinator, Dr. Shilpa Murthy, sought to improve survival rates for Rwandan women by training surgical residents and medical students to diagnose and surgically treat breast cancer.

Dr. Murthy’s impact was profound during her year-long initiative. Among her many contributions:

  • She was a key organizer of Rwanda's first National Breast Cancer Symposium, which was held on October 22 and conducted in collaboration with the Rwandan Ministry of Health, Partners In Health, and the University of Rwanda;
  • In partnership with the University of Rwanda, she designed and implemented a course for surgical residents on the procedures for performing ultrasound guided breast core needle biopsies and breast cancer surgery. To demonstrate these procedures, she used a low fidelity breast model that she developed in conjunction with a local cooperative that supports women living with HIV/AIDS;
  • As a member of a cancer cluster meeting group, she helped to develop national guidelines and protocols for cancer diagnoses and treatment strategies in Rwanda; and
  • She designed, implemented, and received national approvals to conduct a Clinical Breast Exam Simulation Training Course for medical students and surgical and ob/gyn residents at the University of Rwanda.

In October 2015, Dr. Murthy received the American Council of Surgeons Surgical Volunteerism award for her transformative work developing the Clinical Breast Exam Simulation Training Course. She and her supervisor, Dr. Robert Rivello from Partners In Health, were also commissioners/authors on the Lancet Commission on Global Cancer Surgery paper, which developed a framework by which nations and international organizations can strengthen global cancer surgical care.

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