x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Cancer risk for diabetic and obese women

Staggering rates of diabetes and obesity in the UAE are putting women at a high risk of developing endometrial cancer.

ABU DHABI // High rates of obesity and diabetes could put women at a greater risk of developing endometrial cancer, new research has found.

A study by Tawam Hospital looked at 64 patients diagnosed with endometrial cancer between 2008 and 2011. It found that 64 per cent were obese, and nearly one-third diabetic.

Dr Karim Elmasry, a consultant gynaecological oncologist and an author of the study, said diabetes and obesity are known risk factors for developing the cancer, which affects the lining of the uterus.

However, this was the first study to look at the prevalence of endometrial cancer and its triggers.

Speaking at the sidelines of the third annual Seha Research Conference, Dr Elmasry said preliminary observations show that the cancer, which is usually diagnosed in post-menopausal women in the West, is more common at an earlier age in the Emirates.

"In just one week, I saw three young women diagnosed with endometrial cancer," he said. "Two were 35 and the third was 36. In the UK, we rarely see women with the cancer under 40."

According to figures from the World Health Organization, obesity affects nearly 34 per cent of the adult population in the UAE, while nearly a fifth of residents are diagnosed with diabetes, placing the country second worldwide.

"In a country where the prevalence of risk factors are so high, people are more likely to develop the disease at an earlier age," he said, adding that despite the strong association between the three diseases, he would expect to see more cases of endometrial cancer.

However, he said, this could be due to a number of reasons, including under-reporting, high fertility rates and protective genetic factors. Pregnancy can protect women from this type of cancer.

But knowledge alone does little to protect the community from developing deadly diseases, Dr Elmasry said.

"There's an urgent need of a cancer registry including relevant physical and [health-related] risk factors," he said. "Reports put into the cancer registry are only the ones we receive. The health authority needs to mandate the reporting of cancer, only then can we get a real idea of the numbers."

Action needs to be taken at an individual and community level, Dr Elmasry said, including policy changes and environmental support programmes that promote healthy nutrition and increased physical activity.

"We need to do something about this now to prevent the diseases of the future," Dr Elmasry said.