Three new breast cancer studies profiling Emirati women have been started by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
The research will provide essential knowledge on health history, demographics, tumour characteristics and how long it takes women to come forward for diagnosis and treatment.
On average, more young Emirati women are being diagnosed with breast cancer than in the United States. One study will seek to discover the reason for that, while another area of research will focus on the percentage of patients with known genetic mutations, which are often heritable.
Another study will look at the possible reasons behind delays to diagnosis and treatment, which can be deadly.
UAE cancer rates are five times higher in young adults than in UK and US, with almost half of all cancer cases in the Emirates involving people aged under 50, according to a study from 2017 - the most recent data available.
The figures from the UAE National Cancer Registry showed women in the UAE were more likely to get cancer, with 51.3 per cent from the total number of new malignant cancer cases in 2017, compared with 38.3 per cent in men.
A family history of cancer
The three breast cancer studies, which started in September, are being led by the Oncology Institute's team and will rely on voluntary participation, as well as retrospective data collected from hospital records over the last five years.
Dr Stephen Grobmyer, chairman of the Oncology Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, said the research will help doctors understand how the disease affects Emiratis.
“These studies will give us an important starting point to understand how breast cancer affects Emirati women, what are the unique characteristics and risk factors of the disease in the UAE population, and the level of knowledge about family and personal health history among patients,” he said.
“This approach will not only enable us to personalise care for our patients but has the potential to inform public health policy and protocols that benefit the population.”
The first study on breast cancer health awareness and genetics among Emirati women will seek new information about the rate and spectrum of genetic mutations among patients with breast cancer.
Women who come to Cleveland Clinic for scans will also be assessed on their knowledge of breast health, an essential tool in fighting the disease.
“We’ve known for a long time that family history is an important part of a woman understanding her risk of breast cancer,” said Dr Grobmyer.
“The reason is that breast and ovarian cancer has been found in multiple generations of certain families. If a patient knows her family and personal health history, there are several things we can do to help her and her family members.”
Why young Emiratis get breast cancer
The second study will be historic, and look at the demographics and tumour characteristics of breast cancer among Emirati patients treated or evaluated at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi from May 2015 until June 2021.
Dr Grobmyer said this study may lead doctors to recommend new screening protocols, as the Cleveland Clinic sees a larger percentage of young Emirati patients with breast cancer.
“This contrasts with the age at which women in the US are diagnosed with the disease,” he said.
“We will assess the age at which these patients developed breast cancer, and the types of cancer, whether invasive or non-invasive, that are more common.”
The final study will evaluate the hospital’s time to treatment initiation among cancer patients treated or evaluated at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi from January 2018 until January 2020.
Speed of diagnosis and treatment are key to survival rates.
A recent observational study of 28,000 breast cancer patients in America, which was conducted by researchers at Cleveland Clinic in the US and co-authored by Dr Grobmyer, found a decrease in patient survival rates when treatment options — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — are completed more than 38 weeks from the time of diagnosis.
Breast cancer screening programmes have been in place in Abu Dhabi since 2008 and 2014 in Dubai, although specialists recently warned that many women missed mammograms during the pandemic, due to fears about going into hospitals.
Sometimes women in the UAE also faced delays in their cancer treatment post-diagnosis, said Dr Grobmyer.
“Sometimes, patients in the UAE have to visit multiple specialists or want to seek multiple opinions, which prolongs their treatment. We want to identify all the challenges within the patient journey,” he said.
“This study will help us identify what is currently happening when our patients are first diagnosed with breast cancer and how long it takes for them to complete treatment.”