Cancer fight on top of the agenda at Dubai health conference

Clock is ticking as health authorities aim to reduce cancer cases by 18 per cent before 2021

Only 30 per cent of low-income countries offer cancer treatment, while 90 per cent of high-income countries do, a report found AFP
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Health leaders from across the Middle East will put the war on cancer at the top of the agenda at a Dubai summit next week - amid a warning that rates of the deadly disease are set to double in the region in the next decade.

Medical experts will outline the importance of preventative care and early detection and highlight concerns over rates of skin cancer at the War on Cancer Middle East conference, being held at the Rixos Premium Dubai hotel on Tuesday, March 12.

The World Health Organisation predicts that cancer rates in the Middle East will double by 2030, while the Department of Health Abu Dhabi has revealed that about 4,500 new cases of cancer are reported each year.

The worrying figures all add up to a need to step up the fight against cancer - especially as health authorities aim to reduce cancer related deaths by 18 per cent by 2021 as part of the UAE National Agenda.

Skin cancer is a particular concern in the UAE, making up 14.5 per cent of cancer cases among males in the country.

Dr Khashayar Ghiassi, a dermatologist at Medcare, a network of private hospitals in the UAE, said more research is needed to understand why men are more likely to suffer from this form of cancer than women.

“Comprehensive figures for skin cancer in the UAE are still not available,” he said.

“A lot more research needs to be done in this region as there is a wide gap in data.

“The annual rates of all forms of skin cancer are increasing each year, representing a growing public concern."

Dr Ghiassi said a five minute test performed yearly would help reduce cases of skin cancer, called malignant melanoma.

Exposure to ultraviolet sunlight is the main cause, although it also delivers a vitamin D hit that is vital for healthy cell production.

Doctors said people should strike the right balance between sunlight exposure, and protection.

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Skin cancer occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations, or genetic defects, leading cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.

The most common warning sign is a change in appearance, such as a new growth or sore that will not heal.

Unexplained changes in the appearance of the skin lasting longer than two weeks should be immediately evaluated.

There are six skin types, with type one classified as the fairest skin that always burns, but never tans, and type six as dark or black skin that never burns, but always tans.

The World Health Organisation said individual risk factors for skin cancer include fair skin, blue, green or hazel eyes and light-colored hair.

A tendency to burn rather than suntan, history of severe sunburns, many moles, freckles and a family history of skin cancer are also contributing factors.

Like all cancers, early detection is key to offer the best chance of recovery.

The latest Department of Health Abu Dhabi report said leukaemia is the most common cancer in men, followed by colorectal, prostate, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and brain cancer.

In women, breast cancer is the most common form of the disease, followed by leukaemia, colorectal, thyroid and cancer of the uterus.

"The increase in the number of new cases of cancer patients are generally slowing down globally," said Dr Ahmed Abdelhaq, medical director at Bareen International Hospital, Abu Dhabi.

"It has only increased by between 12 - 13 per cent over the last couple of years, slower growth than we have seen in previous years."

Doctors at NMC hospitals said new treatments are helping reduce fatalities when solid tumors are detected.

“There are a lot of new treatments like immunotherapy, we can now consider,” said Mohaned Diab, an oncologist at NMC Speciality Hospital, Abu Dhabi.

Immunotherapy restores the body’s natural defences to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells.

Regular screening campaigns are also proving an effective programme to bring down those numbers.

Zulekha Hospital is offering free screening for colorectal cancer, common in both men and women.

“Colorectal screenings can make a powerful impact,” said Dr Adil Daud, oncology director from the University of California, who is backing the UAE programme.

“This simple test can be the difference between life and death.”

Blamed on a diet lacking in fibre but high in fat, gene abnormalities and old age, more than 80 per cent of UAE cases are found in people over 40.

The hospital group is offering free colorectal cancer screenings until May 3.

To register at Zulekha Hospital, call 600524442 or visit