ABU DHABI // About 30,000 people a year will have lung cancer diagnosed in the Middle East by 2020, a study estimates.
The study predicts that there will be 29,576 new cases in 2020, up from 16,596 in 2008.
“Lung cancer has become an increasing global burden,” said Dr Falah Al Khatib, consultant oncologist at Dubai’s City Hospital. “It is responsible for more than one fifth of deaths around the world and represents about 19.5 per cent of deaths from cancer.
“The most universal cause of lung cancer is tobacco smoke, where smoking causes more than 85 per cent of lung cancer cases.
“The Middle East is one of only two regions of the world where cigarette sales increased between 1990 and 1997. The number of smokers is rising in the UAE and across the Middle East and, as a result of this, we are witnessing a continued increase in lung cancer rates.”
Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer among Emirati males, among whom 23 per cent are smokers, Dr Al Khatib said. Only 0.5 per cent of women smoked.
He said the figures were conservative and the problem was undoubtedly much bigger, given that many countries in the region – including the UAE – do not have cancer registries.
Dr Mohamed Yaman, chief medical officer of Seha’s Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, said: “These numbers will exponentially increase if not double within the next decade.
“Lung cancer is age-related and the population is ageing and smoking, which is directly related to lung cancer, is increasing.”
He warned that shisha smoking was an even greater risk, with one serve equal to 15 cigarettes.
“The incidence of smoking and especially shisha smoking has gone up in the UAE,” Dr Yaman said.
“Shisha places are commonly available in the city and our concern is that we will start seeing a younger age group suffering from lung cancer because we see many teenagers smoking shisha.” He also warned against second-hand smoke.
“In the Northern Hemisphere, exposure is less because you have non-smoking areas. Here you can be a non-smoker but are still exposed to the smoke at restaurants and different areas,” Dr Yaman said.
“I believe that we need a comprehensive education and awareness programme that must be integrated into school curricula, universities and workplaces. We need smoke-free zones and we must limit access to shisha places.”
The report said that lung cancer numbers would increase to 14,788 new cases a year among those aged 65 and below, and 14,788 among those aged above 65 in both males and females in the region. In 2008, these figures were estimated at 9,537 and 7,059, respectively.
The Health Authority Abu Dhabi says: “Cancer is the third leading cause of death in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It is second among nationals and the third among expatriates. It accounts for 16 per cent of total deaths”.
In 2013, the authority reported that 390 deaths were caused by cancer generally and that “34 per cent were nationals and 66 per cent were expatriates. Forty-three per cent of deaths were females and 57 per cent were males”.
Tobacco use is the most important risk factor for cancer, causing 22 per cent of global cancer deaths and 71 per cent of global lung cancer deaths.
Dr Al Khatib said that there was also a need for a wider national screening campaigns for high-risk groups of the population.
“We need a bigger programme where high-risk groups such as smokers and maybe those who work in environments where there is a high level of carcinogens and harmful substances are screened,” he said.
The report, titled Lung Cancer Incidence in the Arab League Countries, was written by academics at the Tanta University in Egypt.