Sheikh Nahyan approves funding for ovarian cancer research

Health experts have welcomed a funding boost for ovarian cancer research in the country, as they say more needs to be done to detect the disease.

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ABU DHABI // Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, president of the UAE Genetic Diseases Association, on Thursday approved a budget to study the causes of ovarian cancer.

And Sheikh Nahyan, also Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, approved the second phase of a research project into breast cancer. He also ordered a genetic survey into favism, a hereditary disease that affects red blood cells.

Sheikh Nahyan gave the approvals as he received a delegation from the association and the executive team of the Fifth National Conference on Genetic Diseases.

Last month’s summit brought together more than 900 genetic scientists, experts, researchers, academics, physicians and representatives of government healthcare providers.

He said the quality of presentations and large number of participants at the event was a “global achievement by the UAE”, the state news agency Wam reported.

Health experts have welcomed the funding boost for ovarian cancer research.

Dr Saad Ghazal-Aswad, senior gynaecological oncologist at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, believes the research fund should be spent looking into the cause of the disease.

“In cases of breast as well as cervical cancer, early detection is possible, but ovarian cancer is usually detected at an advanced stage. This is why we call it a killer disease,” he said.

“We need to conduct research into whether there are some particular factors that cause it.”

Dr Ghazal-Aswad has worked in the UAE for the past 15 years and has received awards for his contribution to medical education.

He said nearly 80 per cent of his patients came to him when they had stage three or four ovarian cancer.

“The survival rate of a patient who has stage four of the disease is around 20 per cent and of those with stage three it is 40 per cent. These are sad statistics.

“If we know what is causing the disease, we can discover it sooner and perform surgery earlier.

“For example, some families have a particular gene which makes them vulnerable to ovarian cancer. In these cases, we can perform surgeries or take preventive measures.”

Dr Ghazal-Aswad has conducted research on chemotherapy but he believes the project can open new doors into understanding the disease and ultimately in realising how it can be prevented or detected at an early stage.

Presently, surgery followed by the removal of the tumour and chemotherapy is the treatment provided to patients of ovarian cancer.

Targeted chemotherapy can be administered to patients once the cause and genesis of the problem is discovered.

“By identifying the factors that cause the problem we will be able to provide targeted treatment. Now, we also have chemo-boards in which different doctors work together to treat a patient,” said Dr Ghazal-Aswad.

Most ovarian cancers develop in women over 60 years of age. Symptoms include indigestion, nausea, weight loss, vaginal bleeding and loss of appetite.

At the 2012 Globocan project, which examined cancer rates in 184 countries, ovarian cancer was found to be the fourth most common among women in the UAE.