Warnings over breast cancer being unheeded in UAE

Although Abu Dhabi has a programme allowing Emiratis an annual free screening after they pass 40, provision elsewhere varies by emirate and many expatriates’ health insurance policies do not provide cover.

ABU DHABI // Women are not heeding warnings to have breast screenings, despite doctors urging that early detection brings a higher chance of full recovery.

Dr Mohanad Diab, head of oncology at NMC Healthcare, said about 85 per cent of breast cancer patients visited the doctor when it was in its late stages, “when the disease has already spread into the lymph nodes or other places”.

Breast cancer has four stages, and catching it at the first stage means the chance of survival is between 95 and 100 per cent.

“Mammograms and ultrasounds can detect changes in the breast two years before a woman can feel it,” Dr Diab said.

“That is why we always recommend mammograms annually as soon as a woman is above 40 years of age.”

He said reasons for not having the tests included lack of insurance cover for expatriates and Emiratis not knowing that they did not have to pay.

Abu Dhabi has a programme allowing Emiratis a free annual screening after they turn 40 but provisions elsewhere vary.

“Most of them do not know they are eligible for free screening,” Dr Diab said. “We need to give them more information and say, ‘please get checked. You are covered’.”

NMC, a private hospital chain, offers free mammograms to women over 40, regardless of their insurance policy or nationality, and Dr Diab said other hospitals should do the same, or at least introduce better measures for expatriate women.

“Our hope is for there to be a national screening programme for expatriates but for the moment there is nothing like that,” he said.

“That is to the detriment of women in the UAE.”

Dr Urfan Ul Haq, a consultant oncologist at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, agreed that there should be a screening programme covering all women.

“Having mammograms is so important so if this could also be started for the expatriates, that would be good,” he said.

“It happens many times that ladies are already at stage four but this is the purpose of screening, to detect and treat women earlier and better.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UAE, accounting for 43 per cent of those diagnosed in women.

It is the second leading cause of death among women, according to the 2012 Cancer Registry Report.

Health professionals say that from the age of 20, women should carry out monthly self-examinations and visit a doctor every three years.

After 40, they should have a mammogram every two years, as recommended by Health Authority Abu Dhabi, or every year if there is family history of cancer.

Medeor 24x7 Hospital in Abu Dhabi is offering free mammograms to all women this month through its Pink Me Early campaign, launched ahead of Breast Cancer Awareness Month next month.

Dr Anandmabee Sinha, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, stressed the importance of early detection

“If a woman feels a lump in the breast growing rapidly, with or without pain, she should get it checked,” Dr Sinha said.

“Other symptoms are puckering of the skin, orange peel-like skin, or any other change in the nipple or breast area. Any bloody discharge from the nipple should also be reported to a medical practitioner.”

Dr Sinha said she felt that embarrassment and uncertainty were key factors in women failing to be screened, despite extensive awareness-raising efforts.

“Nowadays, there is greater awareness,” she said. “Even so, a large proportion of women remain unaware of what even a small lump can mean.”


Published: September 17, 2016 04:00 AM


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