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Lung cancer screening to become routine for heavy smokers

Lung cancer has been top killing cancer in Abu Dhabi for the last three years

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Doctor explaining lungs x-ray on computer screen to young patientSHUTTERSTOCK
Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: For the last three years, lung cancer has ranked as the top killing cancer in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, and health authorities are now looking at deploying programmes to screen high-risk individuals, a top health official has said.

This mortality rate stands despite the fact that lung cancer is not among the five most common cancers in the emirate, said Dr Jalaa Taher, manager of the non-communicable diseases section at the Abu Dhabi Department of Health.

“We had launched a programme to screen heavy smokers a few years ago but it was not fully implemented. So this year, we want to ensure that heavy smokers are screened, and referred to cessation clinics when necessary,” Dr Taher told Gulf News.

The screening involves a low-dose CT scan for those who have smoked a pack a day for 30 years, or two packs daily for 15 years, in accordance with guidelines issued by the American Cancer Society.

“The preliminary plan is to ask smokers about their smoking history to determine if they need to be screened. The smoking history will be recorded when residents visit primary health care facilities, and they will then be referred for screenings,” Dr Taher explained. Such screenings, especially among smokers aged 55 years and older, are known to reduce lung cancer mortality by 20 per cent.

According to statistics released earlier by the department, tobacco use is the most important risk factor for cancer, causing 22 per cent of global cancer deaths and 71 per cent of lung cancer deaths worldwide. This includes tobacco use from all kinds of smoking, including cigarettes, windpipes or shisha, and smoking of loose tobacco through pipes common in the Gulf, known as midwakh.

About 25 to 30 per cent of all adults in the UAE are known to smoke some form of tobacco. And although a 100 per cent tax was applied on tobacco products last year, most smokers surveyed by Gulf News said they would continue to smoke, even though they might cut down on the number of cigarettes per day.

“We cannot ignore the fact that tobacco use is also a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the top killer in the emirate, accounting for 37 per cent of all deaths annually. This is why a screening programme for lung cancer should have multiple benefits,” Dr Taher explained.

In addition to focusing on enhancing cancer screenings, the department will also focus on upgrading the standards of palliative care in the emirate in 2018. This kind of care for terminally ill patients is part of international best practices, and Dr Taher said authorities are currently working to provide dedicated services at hospitals, and enhance the availability and access to painkillers.