x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Doctor calls for national colon cancer screening

A leading expert wants health authoritites to introduce national screning for colon cancer, the second most common cancer in the UAE.

ABU DHABI // A leading doctor has called for a national programme to screen for colon cancer, the second-most common form of cancer in the UAE. Dr Emad al Rahmani, chairman of medicine at Mafraq Hospital, told the Abu Dhabi Medical Congress that screening would significantly reduce the number of people affected by the disease. Colon cancer can be prevented if abnormalities are spotted and treated. Dr Rahmani would like to see all men and women aged 45, or 35 if there is a family history, undergo such testing. "Currently there are no guidelines, which means there is not as much awareness about the importance of screening," he said. "I hope guidelines will be put in place, which will help the situation a lot. "The statistics are vague here but I have seen the National Cancer Registry and the results were very alarming. Its relative incidence has almost doubled in the Emirates in the past 10 years." Meat and fat-heavy diets that are low in fibre have been linked to colon cancer. Other risk factors include lack of exercise, being overweight and smoking. Colon cancer is caused by the abnormal growth of cells in the lining of the bowel. Small lumps, called polyps, can develop either as benign tumours or be caused by the growth of cancerous cells. The polyps are detected and can be immediately removed by a procedure called a colonoscopy. "You can prevent the colon cancer from occurring," said Dr Rahmani. "You can remove the pre-cancerous polyps and take one form of cancer out of the patient's equation for 10 years." Dr Rahmani has prepared proposals to introduce a national screening programme for colon cancer, similar to the ones for breast cancer. He has received positive feedback from health authorities in Abu Dhabi but no decisions have been made. Countries differ, but the average age for colon screening is 50. "The UAE should start screening at 45," Dr Rahmani said. "I have reviewed a lot of cases that started at an earlier age than in the western hemisphere." Family history also plays a role: if any family member has had colon, rectum or bowel-related problems, the chances of developing colon cancer are higher. Breast cancer patients also have more risk of getting colon polyps. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UAE, accounting for 22.8 per cent of all diagnosed cancer cases. Dr Rahmani would like insurance companies to cover colonoscopy. Recently the national insurance company said it was including annual screening for prostate cancer in its enhanced plans for people over 45. They also include annual breast cancer screening. "It would be a very positive step in helping reduce the number of cases. Colon cancer can be detected very early and then prevented for around 10 years." munderwood@thenational.ae