x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Early detection a must for breast cancer survival

While more women are seeking early treatment, a taboo surrounding breast cancer is costing lives.

October has been designated World Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the associated “go pink” campaign has been effective in drawing attention to this disease, its detection and its treatment. Of course, for the many millions of women who are at risk, breast cancer is a matter that requires attention all the time, not just in a single month of the year.

As The National has reported over the past week, breast cancer remains something of a taboo subject in the UAE, with many Emirati women choosing to ignore potential symptoms for fear that they will have to undergo a disfiguring mastectomy.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 1.38 million new cases and 458,000 deaths from breast cancer each year. Its incidence in the UAE – 36.7 cases per 100,000 women – is about half of that of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, but it is higher than in most neighbouring countries.

As WHO literature points out, the incidence of breast cancer is linked to increases in life expectancy, increased urbanisation and the adoption of western lifestyles – all factors that apply in the UAE.

In Abu Dhabi alone, 54 women died of breast cancer last year – more than one death a week from a disease that has a survival rate of more than 95 per cent if it is detected early enough.

More encouraging is that only 16 per cent of cases of breast cancer presented to doctors in the emirate last year were at a late stage, down from 64 per cent in 2007.

But, as Dr Nabil Debouni, the medical director at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said last week, too many women still believe there is a stigma attached to surgery and, as a consequence, they are missing out on early diagnosis and treatment, which does not always involve a mastectomy.

Self-examination is an essential ritual for all adult women, as are regular mammograms, and potential symptoms such as breast lumps must not be ignored. Nor should women seek advice from non-qualified people.

As Dr Jalaa Taher from Abu Dhabi Health Authority told this newspaper: “Do not consult friends, go straight to your physician.”

Seeking advice and treatment may make some women feel uncomfortable, but the statistics don’t lie – early diagnosis and treatment saves lives.