AL AIN // Doctors say one of the most effective ways of fighting breast cancer may be one of the most underused: a single conversation between mother and daughter. Tawam Hospital's breast cancer-awareness campaign is trying to involve generations of women in educating one another about the disease. "To bring awareness to all levels, the mother level and the daughter level, it is easier for us to involve them together," said Dr Huda al Shamsi, a family doctor at the Neima clinic, which is involved in the campaign.
"When you speak to children at a secondary school, they tell their mothers. After a while you see the mother and grandmother coming together. Sometimes sisters will come together. Sometimes mothers will bring daughters and ask whether there is anything they should be doing." Through lectures at secondary schools, universities and hospitals, medical workers explain about the risks of breast cancer and how to detect it. Those who attend can choose to be screened for the disease.
Although breast cancer is most prevalent in women older than 40, Dr al Shamsi said bringing younger women and girls into the discussions would help spread awareness. "The daughters will explain to their mothers about the lecture - we keep it easy to understand for all levels. Even those who are illiterate can understand this lecture," she said. The process removes some of the stigma so topics such as breast self-examinations seem less taboo when brought into the open.
"Without involving the mothers, daughters are hesitant to do the clinical breast examination," she said. "We explain that we are examining the breast, even if she is not married, because it is for her benefit." She said most cases of breast cancer in the UAE were diagnosed at the later stages, which are much more difficult to treat. Often this is because women are too shy to discuss abnormalities in their breasts with their doctor, Dr al Shamsi said.
"Every female should know the nature of her breast and if there is anything abnormal she can notice this. Sometimes there is a lump, but the patient is silent because she doesn't want to expose part of her body." Many women who attend the lecture plan to spread the information to their friends and family. "Everyone has a friend or a family member with breast cancer, so we should tell everybody about it," said Sumail Haili, 35, who works at UAE University in Al Ain. "I have many friends who have breast cancer and I want to know the reason why ... I thought that it came just from smoke, but now I know there are many reasons for breast cancer. I will tell my family - my mum, my sisters - to make sure that there is nothing with them."
Many of the younger women who attended the lecture said they did not feel the disease was a stigmatised as it once was. "My mother told us about it," said Sheikha al Naimi, 26, an administrative assistant in Al Ain. "I think the families now are not like they were before. There is no problem to talk about this thing." Since the programme began in October, there has been more than a 30 per cent increase in the number of women booking screenings with Tawam's mobile breast cancer clinic, which travels throughout the emirate.