x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Free breast cancer screenings in month-long campaign

Officials are looking to increase awareness of the importance of breast cancer screening.

DUBAI // Free screenings, daily lectures and educational brochures are all part of a month-long breast cancer awareness campaign launched today by the Ministry of Health.

The national initiative aims to teach the importance of early screenings and prevention, said Dr Mahmoud Fikri, the ministry's assistant undersecretary for health policies.

"The World Health Organization and the United Nations recently issued a political declaration that every member country has to take action to reduce the prevalence of this disease," Dr Fikri said. "This is because of the burden it has on the economy, on society, on health, and the overall productivity of the community."

Dr Fikri said cancer accounted for nearly 11 per cent of all deaths in the Emirates, surpassed only by cardiovascular disease and traffic accidents.

Dr Fikri said it was unclear what portion of cancer cases in the UAE were breast cancer, as the ministry was still in the process of gathering an up-to-date registry.

"Compiling a cancer registry is the most difficult, because it starts from provision, then goes to diagnosis and treatment," he said. "The process varies from region to region, and there is always the issue of underestimation."

However, according to the most recent figures, from the 2005 UAE National Cancer Registry, breast cancer was the most common type among Emiratis, accounting for 12 per cent of all cases, and 23 per cent of cases in women.

A factor compounding the problem is that only 30 per cent of breast cancer cases in the UAE are diagnosed in the early stages, when the chances of curing the disease are significantly higher and less invasive treatment is required.

As part of the campaign, primary healthcare centres and health departments in schools will organise lectures, educational activities and walk-a-thons.

The campaign will also involve the distribution of the first breast cancer manual in Braille, which has been compiled in collaboration with the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs.

Dr Fikri said that free screenings were available at centres in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.

There are six early detection centres nationwide. There are plans for a seventh to open in Fujairah within six months, at which point there will be a centre in every emirate.

The ministry launched an early-screening detection programme in 1998 that targeted women who were 40 or older.

In 2006, the ministry introduced fully digital mammogram machines into clinics. Since then, 16,760 women have been screened and 74 cases discovered in their early stages.

"You can detect any lesion or microcalcification easily by the digital technique," said Dr Mohammed Abdul Latif, a radiologist and second reader with the health ministry. "Since 2010, every national centre accredited by WHO should use a fully digital mammogram."