The first study of unique breast cancer mutations found in Arab women in the UAE will help doctors deliver personalised treatment to increase survival rates.
Research conducted on 87 women from across the region over five years, from 2016 to 2021, by the Emirates Cancer Society and Burjeel Hospitals is considered a breakthrough in the field.
Genetic mutations were analysed in women from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia.
Oncologists found a different genetic mutation compared with those seen in western women with breast cancer. This could affect how they respond to treatment.
Prof Humaid Al Shamsi, president of the Emirates Cancer Society, who led the study, said the breakthrough would open up new areas of specialist care for women with the disease.
“This research shows the UAE is making strong steps forward in the war on breast cancer,” he said.
“The symptoms are very similar in all breast cancers, but the treatment can be a paradigm.
“Some respond better to chemotherapy, while others may require targeted therapy or immunotherapy.
“If five women come with stage 4 breast cancer, each woman could have a different treatment programme, based on their genes.
“Understanding genetic mutations enables us to give a more personalised treatment, which is the future of cancer treatment.”
The study was supported by the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalised Cancer Therapy, in Houston, in the US, and the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation in Abu Dhabi.
Researchers working with the MD Anderson Medical Centre in the US used next-generation sequencing technology.
The technique scans the DNA extracted from a patient's blood sample or biopsy to search for the presence of genetic mutations associated with breast cancer. Results were published in The Oncologist medical journal.
Breast cancer is the most common tumour found in women in the UAE.
In 2020 it accounted for 21.4 per cent of all cancers in the country, or 1,030 diagnoses, the World Health Organisation said.
It is also the most common of all cancers in the UAE, accounting for 222 deaths last year.
A genetic mutation known as PIK3CA was typically found in between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of western women with breast cancer, but in 12 per cent of Arab women.
A breast cancer screening programme has been in place in Abu Dhabi since 2008, and 2014 in Dubai in a bid to catch the disease early and offer the best chance of successful treatment.
Cancer research is a growth area in the UAE, with 71 medical research papers published, including 30 in the past 18 months.
Dr Al Shamsi said breast cancer in the Arab population had different clinical features compared with the western population, including early-onset and diagnosis at a younger age, especially in those under 40.
“It’s hard to say if this particular mutation is more aggressive or not, as this subtype has only recently been discovered in the last 18 months or so,” he said.
“We do not have enough long term data yet to suggest how it responds to certain treatments or if survival rates are less in women with this genetic mutation.
“Because of this, we want to do more in-depth analysis into early breast cancer, particularly as we are seeing more younger people with cancer.
“In the UAE, 21.5 per cent of the cases diagnosed in 2014 were between the age of 30 and 40, which translates to about one in five women diagnosed with breast cancer, which is very significant.”