Doctors call for UAE-wide colorectal screening programme

Abu Dhabi is the only emirate to screen for the cancer, a malignant tumour that occurs in the colon or rectum.

ABU DHABI // Doctors have called for a country-wide screening programme for colorectal cancer, the second most common form of the disease in the UAE.

They warn that men and women are at risk of developing the condition years earlier here than in other parts of the world. But Abu Dhabi is the only emirate to screen for the cancer, a malignant tumour that occurs in the colon or rectum.

“I think it is very important to expand this screening programme to everybody,” said Dr Ahmed Abdel Samie, head of visceral medicine at Healthpoint clinic in Abu Dhabi.

Screening is a vital tool to prevent colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, because it detects pre-cancerous lesions. But a simple procedure can remove these abnormalities before cancer sets in.

In Europe, screening is recommended after the age of 50 but Dr Samie said men and women should be tested from the age of 40 in the UAE, as recommended by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad).

“It is the second most common cancer in the UAE and data is showing that now younger patients are getting colorectal cancer. But this type of cancer is preventable,” said Dr Samie, 42. He said it was not clear why colon cancer was striking people at a younger age in the UAE.

The disease, however, can be linked to a high-fat, low-fibre diet, lack of exercise, obesity and smoking – factors that are prevalent here. People with inflammatory bowel disease are also more predisposed to colon cancer.

Dr Mazen Al Asadi, chief of the gastroenterology and hepatology department at Mafraq Hospital, agrees on the need for a UAE-wide screening programme.

“Cancer screening for colorectal cancer should be pushed for every local between the ages of 40 and 70. It is very important.”

Screening allows doctors to check for polyps, tissue growths that are normally benign but act as a precursor to colorectal cancer, he said.

“If you remove it, you cure the patient. More than 90 per cent of colorectal cancers arrive from polyps.”

It takes up to ten years for polyps to progress to a cancer, he said.

Dr Al Asadi said he had seen women and men as young as 26 and 32 with the condition.

This is far too young, he said. While screening is an important tool, the primary form of prevention should be exercise, weight control and a healthy diet.

Haad introduced its screening programme last year and said that 9 per cent of new local cases of cancer in 2012 were colorectal. Of those, 59 per cent were men.

There are no UAE-wide figures.

According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about one in 20. This risk is slightly lower in women than in men.

Dr Atul Chawla, a specialist gastroenterologist at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital believes it will not be long before the other emirates follow Abu Dhabi’s example.

“If you nip it in the bud the outcome is fantastic,” he said.

“If you calculate the cost of treating colon cancer versus the cost of screening healthy people, it is much more cost effective.”

Haad recommends a colonoscopy, which should be done every 10 years, or a faecal immunochemical test to detect blood in a stool sample and is recommended every two years.

Dr Samie said red flags include anaemia, blood traces in stools, unintentional weight loss, difficulty swallowing and abdominal pains. He said there was a common misconception that a colonoscopy – a test that allows a doctor to look at the rectum and colon, take samples and remove abnormal growths – can be painful.

“It is a simple and easy procedure and takes about 20 minutes.”

Most patients are sedated and feel no pain or discomfort, he said.

“It can save lives. People should have no fears or worries about having a colonoscopy.”

Published: May 28, 2014 04:00 AM


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