ABU DHABI //Doctors have called for a cervical screening programme in Dubai to encourage more women to step forward for potentially life-saving tests.
Cervical cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed form of cancer among women in the UAE, even though it is preventable.
Abu Dhabi launched the first organised screening programme this year and experts in Dubai now want to follow suit.
"It definitely saves lives. It reduces the mortality drastically. That's what has been shown in all these countries where there is a well-established screening programme in place," said Dr Suzanne Salihi, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist.
Women should be called in for a Pap smear test on a regular basis, she said. "Because the smear is not 100 per cent sensitive, if you get it done regularly then it is highly likely if there is any abnormality you will pick it up by the next turn."
Dr Salihi, an Austrian expatriate who trained and worked as a consultant in the UK, has worked in Dubai since 2009 and owns The White House Clinic, which opened in January.
Dr Salihi, a sub specialist in cervical abnormalities and colposcopy, said: "I do see a lot of severe abnormalities, which is the stage just before breaking into cancer and thanks to the smear test I can identify them and save lives by preventing cancer from happening."
It is left to individual clinics to call patients for smear tests, said Dr Rosalie Sant, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Primavera Medical Centre in Dubai.
"But there are people who have never had a smear who are not reachable to us to encourage them to come over," she said, and an organised programme would "broaden the screening net".
"In my opinion cervical cancer should be something of the past. We should not be seeing cervical cancer now, both with the vaccination and Pap smears, why should we still be getting people who have never had a Pap smear going on to have cervical cancer?"
The pre-cancer stage of the disease is long - between five and 20 years - meaning there is plenty opportunity to catch it before it turns to cancer, said Dr Sant, who believes women should be called for the test annually.
"It's such a shame that people are still presenting with cancer because they come so late," she said.
Most western patients have heard of smear tests but the Asian community is less aware, particularly Indian women, said Dr Sant. And Emirati women are also sometimes in the dark.
"Sometimes even if Arab patients have had a Pap smear they are not aware it is called a Pap smear and they don't distinguish between Pap smear and a swab for infection," she said.
Dr Amal Badi, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Medical International Specialist Centre, agreed with the need for an organised programme.
"We have a lot of undiagnosed cervical cancer and this is a preventable disease," she said.
"The patients I take care of during pregnancy, when they come after delivery, we offer them the screening. And those who have done it before, we also call them and remind them that it's time for their screening.
"Some of them come and some of them don't. A lot of people are here temporarily in Dubai so it's not all of them that we can reach again."
In the Middle East in general, there is a need for more publicity about the importance of smears, said Dr Ibrahim Abd Elrahman, a consultant gynaecologist at Mediclinic City Hospital in Dubai.
"It's very common to have someone coming in to see me in their mid-thirties who has never had a smear and has never heard of one," he said.
Cervical cancer is the third most common cause of cancer-related deaths among women worldwide, after lung and breast cancer.
In recent years, the World Health Organisation's records show an increase in the number of new cases diagnosed in the UAE, from 48 in 2008 to 74 in 2010. The total number is expected to surpass 100 by 2020.