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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Growing numbers of UAE residents attend free breast screenings

The number of women taking advantage of Zulekha Hospital's free cancer screening programme has trebled since 2014

Not all insurance packages cover cancer checks and treatment, which is thought to explain the large number flocking to free screenings in recent years. Silvia Razgova / The National
Not all insurance packages cover cancer checks and treatment, which is thought to explain the large number flocking to free screenings in recent years. Silvia Razgova / The National

Increasing numbers of women are taking advantage of free breast screening to spot the signs of the world's most prevalent cancer, hospitals and campaigners said.

Zulekha Hospital launched a drive yesterday that offers free X-ray mammograms and consultations for the rest of this year, adding that almost 3,000 took advantage of a similar drive last year, up from 850 in 2014.

A similar ten-day campaign held in March by the Friends of Cancer Patients screened close to 7,500 people for breast cancer during the annual Pink Caravan ride across the country. In that time, 12 cases of malignant cancers were found during screenings, the most since 2011.

But the trend also casts the spotlight on the fact that free screenings are necessary, given medical insurance often does not cover such checks.

Zulekha announced a 59 per cent increase in women attending free screenings last year, compared with 2015, as part of its breast cancer campaign that is now in its sixth year.

“It is these staggering figures that reveal the important role of early detection in order to save the lives of women all over the world,” said Dr Pamela Munster, who is an ambassador of the Zulekha Hospital screening campaign.

“As healthcare professionals, it is our duty to better educate women in the UAE and empower them to take charge of their health.

“In doing so, the campaign helps to reduce breast cancer fatalities in the UAE.”

A similar ten-day campaign held in March by the Friends of Cancer Patients screened close to 7,500 people for breast cancer during the annual Pink Caravan ride across the country.

Health authorities aim to reduce cancer fatalities in the UAE by 18 per cent before 2021. A key component of that strategy is early detection, as 98 per cent of those with breast cancer survive, If detected early.

Basic health insurance however does not currently cover the cost of most cancer screenings and treatments, forcing many patients to go abroad for cancer related healthcare.

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Women over 45, or younger women with a family history of breast cancer, are advised to have annual mammograms, or at least every other year.

Screening costs vary from Dh400 to Dh1350, with chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy sending costs rocketing if doctors diagnose breast cancer.

Zulekha Hospital’s ‘Pink It Now’ campaign aims to raise breast cancer awareness, the importance of early detection and the benefit of regular check-ups.

Out of 100,000 mammograms completed at Zulekha Hospital, doctors find abnormalities in about 100 cases.

Survivors shared their experiences just after the launch of an exclusive online cancer support forum named 'Pink Knights'.

The forum will continue to connect survivors who have battled against cancer and emerged successful to share their experiences.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 8.8 million people died from cancer globally, of which up to 30-50 per cent of cancers could be prevented and breast cancer is the top cancer in women across the world.

“We want to devote our time to raise awareness of breast cancer and honour the thousands of women across the region who have been diagnosed,” said Dr Hussain Abdul Rahman Al Rand, Assistant Undersecretary at the Ministry of Health and Prevention.

“It is part of our role in the government of the UAE to make more women aware of not just breast cancer, but also other forms of cancer.”

Rahma, the cancer patient care society, is one of a growing number of charities helping support those who may not be able to afford the costs of treatment and recovery.

It offers information on what support is available, and can help with financial support for those on a low income.

The society has access to a comprehensive database of the best medical centres and hospitals around the world, with information on costs and treatments available to patients.

“The cost of medicines and cancer care is high and, in some cases, insurance companies fall short,” said Nora Al Suwaidi, director general of Cancer Patient Care Society - Rahma, speaking to The National last week.

“We have patients in labour camps, their family members and widows who can't even afford the ride to the hospital, let alone the high cost of treatment.

“Palliative care centres are also limited in the UAE. This requirement should be addressed by both government and private hospitals.”