A new lung cancer drug approved in the UAE is a major breakthrough in the fight against the disease, one of the country's leading experts said.
The UAE this week became the second country in the world to approve the use of Lumakras.
The drug targets a genetic mutation, known as Kras G12C, which is common in cases of non-small cell lung cancer.
This is something previously thought impossible, according to Dr Humaid Al Shamsi, associate professor of oncology at the University of Sharjah.
"The scientific community is so excited because everybody has been dreaming about targeting this mutation for a long time," Dr Al Shamsi said.
“This drug is a revolution in the fight against lung cancer because it enables us to do something we were not able to do in the past.”
Lumakras, which is taken once a day in the form of eight tablets, is for people suffering from non-small cell lung cancer that has spread to other parts of the body or cannot be removed by surgery.
The drug is to be taken by adult patients who have had at least one previous cancer therapy.
"It is for patients in the advanced stages of the disease," Dr Al Shamsi said.
Lung cancer causes more deaths each year than any other cancer, according to the World Health Organisation.
The most recent data from the WHO said lung cancer caused 1.8 million deaths globally in 2020, almost double that of colon and rectal cancer, which was next on the list with 935,000 deaths.
Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for up to 85 per cent of all cases of lung cancer.
In the UAE, lung cancer is responsible for 7 per cent of all cancer cases, with 90 per cent of the cases linked to smoking.
Early detection is crucial
Dr Al Shamsi, who is also the president of Emirates Oncology Society, said the new drug could extend the lifespan of patients by up to 12 months.
He called for smokers, especially those over the age of 50 who have been smoking a pack a day for 15 years or more, to get screenings for lung cancer at the first available opportunity.
“If you are over 50 and have a history of smoking you should talk to your doctor about lung cancer screenings,” he said.
“It’s no good waiting until you have symptoms. If you have cancer but it’s in the early stages then it will be much easier to treat.
“Once you have the symptoms, it’s most likely already at an advanced stage.”
Early detection is crucial because the farther cancer has spread the more likely it is to return.
It is expected that between 30 per cent and 55 per cent of people with non-small cell lung cancer will experience a recurrence of the disease.
Dr Al Shamsi also said the number of young people in the UE smoking was on the increase, a trend at odds with other parts of the world.
“There is still a lack of awareness about the negative effects of smoking,” he said.
“The best scenario is to speak to a doctor about smoking cessation as it can be difficult to stop on your own.”
He also urged people who were trying to quit to stay away from surroundings that might tempt them to light up again.
“You should try to avoid gatherings where you know others will be smoking,” he said.
“Research shows you are more likely to start smoking again if you don’t change your habits or environment.”
Smoking, he said, is known to be the cause of at least 16 different types of cancer.