Doctors have urged women over the age of 40 to have a mammogram every year, after a recent survey found that 40 per cent have never had one.
The simple screening consists of an X-ray of the breasts, which doctors use to look for early signs of cancer.
Eighty per cent of the 302 women surveyed by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Shakbout Medical City have either had breast cancer themselves or know someone who has had it.
The study showed that despite awareness campaigns, 50 per cent of the women surveyed were reluctant to have a mammogram.
Among the main reasons for the hesitancy was a lack of symptoms (31 per cent), being worried about the results (26 per cent), having no family history of breast cancer (25 per cent), and that it felt uncomfortable.
SSMC said breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women in Abu Dhabi, accounting for almost half of cancers diagnosed.
Half of breast cancer cases develop in women who have no identifiable breast cancer risk factor other than their age. If the disease is detected early, experts say an estimated 98 per cent of women survive.
Early detection critical
Early detection is “critical because it is then easier to treat”, said Dr Holland Ravelle, consultant in radiology at SSMC.
“Half of breast cancer cases develop in women who have no identifiable breast cancer risk factor other than their age, typically over 40 years,” she said.
“However, if detected early, the majority of women survive.
“It is imperative for women over the age of 40 who live a healthy lifestyle to undergo regular screenings as this increases the chances of early detection, and therefore, better treatment outcomes.”
This month, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, SMCC launched a breast cancer support group, which includes regular support sessions aimed at providing patients and their families a safe space to express their feelings and share their unique experiences during their treatment journey.
“I know exactly how it feels to hear that diagnosis,” breast cancer survivor Sara, 45, told The National.
“It can be really tough, so much so that I did not even tell my family and friends at the beginning. That’s how scared I was.
“But being able to sit down with them and explain what I was feeling was so reassuring for not only me but for them as well.
“That is why support groups are so important so that we can spread the message to women that they are not alone on their journey.”
There are many misconceptions surrounding breast cancer, particularly when it comes to family history being a factor.
Abu Dhabi-based nurse Riji, 39, said that she was feeling healthy and had no family history of cancer. She went to see a doctor when she noticed a discharge coming out of her breast. A biopsy showed that she had first-stage cancer.
She had surgery to remove the breast in Mumbai and continued her therapy at SSMC. She has been cancer-free for a year.
“A message to all females out there: never ignore any symptom or abnormality you feel on your breast and never live in denial that you will never have breast cancer because you never know,” she said.
UAE citizen Farah, 49, who works in a bank in Abu Dhabi, said there was no history of cancer in her family.
In 2013, she discovered a lump on her right breast while on holiday with her family.
“I was lost at that moment. Although I am a very well-educated woman, I had zero medical knowledge and information about breast cancer. I really did not know what to do,” she said.
She had a mastectomy at SSMC but discovered another lump in 2018 which required more surgery.
“My message to all women is to educate yourself, focus on your health and not only your career. Find the time and take care of yourself — never give up and always have hope that you will fight it,” she said.
“I have been through a very tough journey, yet I kept going to work, encourage positive thoughts like imagining my daughter’s future wedding and that I want to be alive to be there.
“Cancer is not the end of the world and does not mean that you will die. When there is a will, there is a way.”