A national lung cancer campaign has been launched to encourage smokers and others to recognise the early signs and symptoms of the disease.
Emirates Oncology Society has partnered with drug makers AstraZeneca to roll-out the ‘Hope over fear’ messaging project.
It aims to to encourage more at-risk people to volunteer for screening, as 80 per cent of cases are seen by doctors at a later stage, leading to worse outcomes and early death.
Professor Humaid Al Shamsi, oncologist and president of Emirates Oncology Society, said the number of people seen by doctors in an advanced stage of lung cancer is far too high.
“We need this number to reduce by encouraging people to get screened earlier through increased awareness,” he said.
“If you are a smoker, or have smoked for 10 years or more, you should visit your doctor and request a chest CT scan.
“Lung cancer is extremely curable if diagnosed in its early stages.”
Lung cancer accounts for one in 10 UAE cancer deaths
Lung cancer was the sixth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the Emirates in 2020, at 4.7 per cent, according to World Health Organisation figures.
However, it had the second highest mortality rate among all cancers in the country last year, accounting for 9.9 per cent of deaths.
The disease has the highest death rate of all cancers globally, WHO states.
Although it is possible to be diagnosed with lung cancer as a non-smoker, the habit remains the primary cause of the disease.
The public awareness campaign follows the development of local referral and screening guidelines for lung cancer, to help healthcare professionals identify the disease early.
The initiative will run until the end of the year and include radio advertising, as well as outdoor and social media advertising to raise public awareness.
According to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, about 90 per cent of lung cancer cases globally are linked to smoking.
Figures from the World Health Organisation show smoking stubbornly remains a popular habit in adults across the region.
In the UAE, 37 per cent of adult men smoke, the same number as in Kuwait and Bahrain, with 25 per cent in Saudi Arabia.
UAE leads fight against disease
The awareness campaign is the latest effort by health authorities to drive down lung cancer cases.
In June, the UAE became only the second country in the world to approve the use of a key lung cancer drug.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention licensed Lumakras following its approval by the US Food and Drug Administration.
This will give lung cancer patients in the UAE early access to the drug to help speed up their treatment and improve the quality of their life.
Lumakras is a tablet prescribed to adult patients who have received at least one previous cancer therapy.
It targets non-small cell lung cancer, in which tumours have a specific type of genetic mutation, called Kras G12C.
Up to 85 per cent of lung cancers are non-small cell, while metastatic means the cancer has spread.
In a study of the drug's effectiveness on 124 patients, 36 per cent saw their tumours shrink or disappear.
Campaign a 'step forward'
Salim Mohammad Bin Lahij from Dubai Health Authority said the campaign aims to improve survival rates.
“This campaign is much needed step forward for lung cancer patients,” he said.
“The purpose of this campaign is to raise awareness about lung cancer so that more people can be diagnosed in earlier stages where they have a greater potential to be treated successfully.”
Symptoms of the disease can include a persistent cough lasting two to three weeks, hard to shift chest infections, coughing up blood, breathlessness and fatigue.
Dr Prasanta Kumar Dash, an oncologist at Canadian Specialist Hospital in Dubai, said early detection was important for all cancers, but particularly lung cancer.
“If we detect lung cancer in an early stage then it is curable,” he said.
“People may be reluctant to take part in screening tests because they believe they are at low risk for cancer.
“A lack of time or proper knowledge about screening may be another reason for unwillingness to get checked, while some people are worried about radiation exposure due to CT scans.
“Early lung cancers generally don’t manifest any clinical symptoms so it is important to do screening tests annually, particularly in high risk populations.”
Anyone concerned about the disease can call 800LUNG to learn more about lung cancer risk factors, early signs and symptoms, and the criteria for those who should opt for annual screening.