Breakthrough in cancer screening

Lung cancer has few symptoms until its later stages, which makes early diagnosis a challenge. In Abu Dhabi, nine out of 10 patients have the most advanced form of the disease by the time it is diagnosed.
Dr Ali Al Dameh said smokers over the age of 45 are eligible for screening in the ‘milestone’ health campaign. Antonie Robertson / The National
Dr Ali Al Dameh said smokers over the age of 45 are eligible for screening in the ‘milestone’ health campaign. Antonie Robertson / The National

AL AIN // Groundbreaking screening technology launched at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain can detect lung cancer even when there are no symptoms.

It is the first time in the Arab world that low-dose computed tomography, or LDCT, has been offered on a mass scale.

Lung cancer has few symptoms until its later stages, which makes early diagnosis a challenge. In Abu Dhabi, nine out of 10 patients have the most advanced form of the disease by the time it is diagnosed.

“This is the only formal screening programme in the region that screens patients who are at risk for lung cancer with LDCT and it’s a milestone in the battle against lung cancer, one of the most common cancers worldwide,” said Dr Ali Al Dameh, head of the hospital’s lung-cancer screening programme.

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death among male Emiratis.

The programme will be UAE-wide and although it is open only to Emiratis at present, Dr Al Dameh hopes it will be made available to expatriates at an affordable cost.

Traditionally, doctors used chest X-rays to screen for lung cancer, but these cannot detect the disease in its early stages.

The detection rate of lung cancer by X-rays is less than 15 per cent. With the use of LDCT, 80 to 85 per cent of lung-cancer cases are detected at stage I. When detected at this stage, a patient’s five-year survival rate is 73 per cent, compared with 13 per cent for later stages of the disease.

“The situation in the UAE is complicated by the fact that people smoke shisha and medwakh,” said Dr Al Dameh, a thoracic surgery consultant. “If someone is 45 years old and above, a heavy smoker of cigarettes, shisha and medwakh, they are eligible for screening.”

Doctors welcomed the programme. “Tawam Hospital is the first and we hope we will be the second to launch it,” said Dr Mohanad Diab, medical oncology consultant at NMC Specialty Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

LDCT technology was relatively common in his native Sweden, Dr Diab said. In the UAE it was important to start screening those at risk of lung cancer from the age of 50.

“The population is young and the use of shisha and medwakh complicate the situation.”

Dr Rajesh Paraswani, a specialist in radiology at Lifeline Hospital in Mussaffah, said: “Most cases of lung cancer are diagnosed quite late. If it is detected early and operated on, the patient can have a better life as a complete cure is possible only with early diagnosis.”

One flaw in the system, however, was that it may pick up suspicious nodules that might not be cancerous.

“Many studies have shown that in spite of over-diagnosing, we will be saving lives through such screening,” he said.

Dr Paraswani hoped expatriates would soon be included in the screening process.

The risk factors of lung cancer include smoking, air pollution, exposure to toxic chemical substances, bronchitis, family history of lung cancer and previous history of lung cancer.

arizvi2@thenational.ae

Published: August 27, 2015 04:00 AM

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