Dubai: All it takes is a few minutes to feel for any lumps and thereby reduce your risk of breast cancer. Though not all cancers can be detected this way, it certainly helps you to determine if something unusual is going on. Gulf News looks at breast cancer in the UAE.
"I had always been the healthy one in my family. On first being diagnosed, I could not believe what was happening."
Ase was shocked when she first heard the news. She did not conduct regular self-exams, but suddenly felt something was wrong when she found a lump in her right breast.
Ase O. from Norway was initially diagnosed in Denmark in 1999 and as she followed treatment in Denmark she felt the healing benefits of a supportive family and friends network.
"I was lucky having a husband, son, family members and good friends who always encouraged me and gave me strength to complete the whole treatment," she said.
"I was operated in September 1999, on the 14th day after diagnosis as stated by the law in Denmark which says that nobody should wait longer than that for the operation. The final part of the five-year-hormone therapy took place here in the UAE," she said.
Ase has been cancer-free for eight years now.
"The lowest point of my treatment was not losing my hair or the illness around each chemo, but the pain I had for weeks following after the operation.
"At the time I just followed my doctors' recommendations, and had full confidence in the traditional treatment they prescribed. In Abu Dhabi, though, I started with yoga and it helped me to get my physical strength back. I have never felt better than today!"
- So far only 15 blood samples have been taken for testing by Eastern Biotech, the first biotechnology company to provide genetic testing for cancer in Dubai
- Testing costs $4,000 or Dh14,680
- It takes 15 weeks to send the blood sample to the company's partner lab in Germany and receive the results.
- There are four centres in Dubai that collect blood samples - Dubai Harley Institute Medical Centre in Bur Dubai, Jebel Ali Hospital, First Medical Centre and Wellness Medical Centre in Jumeirah. In Abu Dhabi go to the Gulf Diagnostic Centre.
- Who should do the test? People with a family history of breast cancer and other cancers such as colon, ovarian and endometrial cancers (lining of the womb).
- Early detection of cancer cell test, to see if any tumour is growing. Works by determining whether the bio-chemical level of tumour markers in the blood are above the normal range.
Breast cancer is divided into four stages, according to the severity of the disease. The stages have sub-classes, which affects the chances of survival. Survival rates are calculated based on whether the woman remains cancer-free for five years.
Stage I (early stage), so called in situ cancer, is the earliest phase of breast cancer and represents 15 per cent to 20 per cent of breast cancer cases. The survival rate is 100 per cent.
Stage II (early stage - A and B) identifies the phase in which the tumour has grown larger and the malignant cells have started to spread to other parts of the breast but have not yet reached the axillary lymph nodes. The survival rate is between 81 to 92 per cent.
Stage III (A and B) identifies the phase in which the malignant cells start to detach from the tumour and enter the blood stream and the lymphatic system, accumulating in the axillary lymphy nodes or in the thoracic cavity. The survival rate is 54 to 67 per cent.
Stage IV (metastatic) identifies the phase in which the cancer cells have invaded the breast and spread through the lymphatic system and blood stream to other parts of the body, attaching themselves to other organs such as the lungs, brain, liver or bones forming other tumours called metastases. The survival rate is 20 per cent.
Source: Sanofi Aventis Oncology and American Cancer Society.
Sources: NHS Breast Screening Programme, BMA Family Health Encyclopedia
What is breast cancer
Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control and can then invade nearby tissues. Large collections of this out of control tissue are called tumours. However, some tumours are not really cancer because they cannot spread or threaten someone's life. These are called benign tumours. The tumours that can spread throughout the body or invade nearby tissues are called malignant tumours.
PreventableBreast cancer is responsible for one in five female cancer deaths in the western world, mainly affecting women after their menopause. Monthly self-examination should enable a woman to detect at an early stage any new or changing breast lump or any change in her nipples. In addition, mammography - breast X-ray - is available at many hospitals in the UAE.
a. SensationBe aware of changes in sensation, such as a new tingling or pain in one breast.
b. Appearance One breast may become unequal in size to the other, or elevated on one side. Look for any skin dimpling or rippling.
d. Skin surface Look for any reddish areas which seem not to heal or 'orange-peel' texture that could indicate a lump.
c. Discharge Gently squeeze nipples: any discharge or fattening of one breast or distortion of a nipple should be reported to your doctor.
2. Detecting lumps Lie on your back with one arm to the side. Rotate the flat of the hand clockwise and examine the outer parts of the breast.
3. Self-examinationRaise the arm to examine the inner parts of the breast. Feel along the collarbone and into the armpit. Stretching the tissue makes the detection of lumps easier.
An elderly woman's son and daughter-in-law abandoned her when she developed breast cancer because the daughter-in-law did not want to take care of her.
A woman's husband divorced her when she told him she had breast cancer.
Another woman's husband married a second wife when he got the news.
Although these stories are growing fewer, anti-cancer activists still hear stories like these from people seeking their help, said Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, secretary-general of Friends of Cancer Patients.
"We can't eliminate these things overnight. It will take time," she said. The breast is a private and sensitive part of the woman's body, and discussing anything involving the body part is taboo. Because of this, early detection of breast cancer is still not occurring as frequently as many health officials would like.
She said in order to improve the detection and survival rate, the UAE government must implement several initiatives.
One of them is to establish a women's clinic at the national level, with one centre dedicated to women's health in each emirate. Another is to increase the number of mammogram machines and improve access to them by providing them for free or at cost. Only three hospitals have oncology departments: Dubai Hospital, Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi and Tawam Hospital in Al Ain.
Have your say
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