DUBAI // A new project will soon help to fund breast cancer treatment for patients who cannot afford it.
Breast Cancer Arabia, which covers all member countries of the Arab League, has set up a foundation to provide support and funding for women in need.
Elizabeth Reyes, the director of the project, said it tackled three areas in which women often struggle to find help in the region.
"Women need high-quality information about breast cancer treatment, information on the places where they can receive that treatment, and a support system," Mrs Reyes said.
"Many patients do not receive the treatment they need or get surgeries from doctors who are not specialists in the field."
The project has developed the website breastcancerarabia.com, where clinics and hospitals that provide breast cancer services, from screening and therapy to mastectomies and aftercare treatment, can have their services listed.
Healthcare providers will pay a membership fee to list. Those fees go towards funding treatment.
Medical centres applying for membership will undergo a screening process, including questions about the types of services they provide, their facilities and the expertise of the medical staff available.
Patients can provide feedback on services on the website.
"If we find that patients have been receiving unsatisfactory service from a particular clinic, we will immediately remove them from the list," Mrs Reyes said.
"We want to make sure that we give every woman the best chance of survival."
She said her organisation hoped to have a comprehensive list of clinics by early next year and the foundation was in the process of funding treatment for its first patient.
Dr Andre Rizk, the chief of medical oncology at the Gulf International Cancer Centre in Abu Dhabi, agreed patients needed to be educated about treatment options.
"We have excellent specialists, people dedicated to their field," Dr Rizk said. "All you need to know is where they are. I do think that many of the breast surgeries are not being done by people who are sub-specialised in breast cancer."
Dr Rizk, from Lebanon, said there were about five breast surgeons in the country, all in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
"For a country like the UAE, that is enough," he said. "I don't think there is a shortage in breast surgeons but the issue lies in educating the patients and guiding them to a breast surgeon."
About 250 breast cancer patients were treated in the oncology department at Gulf International Cancer Centre last year, nearly half of the department's patients.
Dr Rizk said the big issue was not treatment but screening and prevention.
According to the UAE National Cancer Registry, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among UAE nationals, accounting for 12 per cent of all cases across both genders, and 23 per cent in women.
Only 30 per cent of breast cancers are diagnosed in the early stages of the disease, when the chances of curing it are significantly higher and less invasive treatment is required.
"I don't think the quality of screening is homogenous in this country," Dr Rizk said. "You can go from one of the best in the world to one of the worst in the world.
"No place in the world has the same level across the board but here, there is a lot of discrepancy and no way to tell."
The opportunity to increase performance, however, does exist, Dr Rizk said.
"It's truly amazing. We do have in this country one of the best breast-imaging services in the world," he said.
"All we need to do is look at how people are performing at the highest level and copy the system."
Once standards for screening are increased, the chances of the disease spreading are lowered.
"Missing a lesion on a screening test is worse than not knowing how to treat a disease because the minute you determine what that screening has indicated, that means this is a disease that can be prevented," Dr Rizk said.