We must take a holistic approach in the battle against cancer

Looking after ourselves and frequent check-ups help ward off the disease or, failing that, catch it early

Illustration of white blood cells attaching to cancer cell
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Medicine has made great strides in the past century, eliminating a number of common ailments and reducing global child mortality to a fifth of what it was in the 1950s. Unfortunately, it has yet to find a cure for cancer, the world's second-biggest killer according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). In an effort to curb the impact of this debilitating and much-feared disease, experts from around the world convened in Dubai on Tuesday for the War on Cancer Middle East conference. Standing at the vanguard of regional innovation in healthcare and having committed to cut cancer-related deaths by 18 per cent by 2021, the UAE was a natural setting for the event.

The timing, too, could not be more appropriate. In recent years, the number of cancer patients in the Middle East has soared, especially in the GCC. According to the WHO, UAE cancer rates rose by a staggering 62 per cent between 2008 and 2017. In Saudi Arabia, the rise was 49 per cent. Although these numbers seem alarming, elevated cancer detection rates are largely a result of more screening and improved diagnosis, which, in turn, means that patients have a better chance of recovery.

Nonetheless, further action is clearly needed to curb this trend, starting with prevention. While the disease can affect anyone, a third of cancer-related deaths are attributable to lifestyle factors – mainly being overweight, lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking and alcohol consumption. Unavoidable environmental factors and genetic predispositions arguably play a more important role in the development of cancerous cells, but looking after ourselves will always be an advisable course of action.

As far as identifying early-stage cancer is concerned, routine check-ups are crucial. Accordingly, with breast cancer the most common iteration of the disease to affect women, Abu Dhabi Department of Health has called for routine examinations for those under 30 years of age. Such forward-thinking measures are just a part of the holistic approach that tackling cancer will require. As long as the search for a cure for this potentially lethal disease continues, we must do everything in our power to protect ourselves against it.