Every cancer case in the country will soon be recorded in a central national registry, in an attempt to address the lack of data that doctors say has hampered their attempts to tackle the disease.
Cancer registry new weapon in war against UAE's third biggest killer
DUBAI // Every cancer case in the country will soon be recorded in a central national registry, in an attempt to address the lack of data that doctors say has hampered their attempts to tackle the disease.
With cancer being the third leading cause of death in the country - after cardiovascular disease and traffic accidents - doctors have long called for a central registry.
They say it would allow vastly better prevention and screening programmes, which in turn would cut the number of deaths.
A previous national registry, initiated in 1998 by Tawam Hospital, foundered in 2001. In its place, the hospital maintains a registry that covers about 80 per cent of the country, including all of Abu Dhabi. Its data is still published every year, but is less useful than a complete, UAE-wide record.
Now the Ministry of Health is trying again, coordinating with the local health authorities to collect data from every emirate.
"This time the ministry's focus was not only to establish a national cancer registry but also to have state registries for each different authority," said Dr Kalthoom Mohammed Al Belooshi, the ministry's acting head of statistics and health research.
So far, the ministry has collected data from the first half of this year from its 14 hospitals in Dubai and the northern emirates.
By the end of the year, it hopes the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) and the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) will supply their data.
It will all go to Tawam Hospital, which has the equipment and staff to process it. Eventually, the ministry intends to process the data itself.
From the start of next year, countrywide figures on the incidence of cancer will be published online, while experts and academics will have access to more detailed data on request.
The data will also allow UAE cancer patterns to be compared with those of other countries, through organisations such as the International Agency for Cancer Research at the World Health Organization.
Dr Al Belooshi admitted the aim of a central database was made more challenging by the UAE's overlapping health authorities, but said they were now working together.
"The fact of having multiple health authorities in the country without having a unified infrastructure could pose delay in bringing all to one platform," she said.
"We have started working on this project and I am pleased to share that there is a very good response from all health authorities."
With the help of Friends of Cancer Patients, a charitable foundation, the ministry is in the process of buying new data collection software to link all private and public hospitals offering cancer care.
It will allow doctors to enter their patients' data into the system directly, rather than having to send it to their health authority or the ministry for inputting.
"The system will allow us to track a patient starting from the day of diagnosis until the end of treatment," Dr Al Belooshi said. "It is extremely detailed and will even include information on palliative care."
It hopes to have the system set up and running by next year.
Doctors have long called for such a registry. "Having access to national statistics on cancer trends is extremely important," said Dr Hazem Seif El Nasr, a dermatologist at Al Garhoud Private Hospital.
"Most cases are reported to public hospitals, and because of this we often don't get to see the broader picture."
Dr Anwar Al Hammadi, head of dermatology at the DHA, said a registry was key to improving cancer care.
"The ministry, HAAD and the DHA can work together to make this happen," he said. "There are so many forms of specialised treatment, including non-surgical measures.
"A registry would allow us to note the trend, track the patients and treat them accordingly. It's absolutely necessary."