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Dr Nicole Sirotin says breast cancer makes up more than 45 per cent of all cancers diagnosed in the UAE each year. Image Credit: Samihah Zaman, Senior Reporter

Abu Dhabi: Breast cancer is being diagnosed about 10 years earlier among patients in the UAE compared to their counterparts in the West, top health experts warned in the capital on Thursday (October 20)

At the same time, patients can do a lot to reduce cancer risk and enhance the efficacy of treatment by simply making healthier lifestyle choices, they said at the Healthier Living Through Knowledge and Awareness seminar at Abu Dhabi University.

“[The fact that breast cancer occurs earlier here] has been known for several years now, and we are doing ongoing research to understand better the genetic of breast cancer [in the Emirati population]. There is a growing understanding about the connection between lifestyle and the risk for a lot of diseases, [including] breast cancer, so we encourage everyone to live a healthy lifestyle, and maintain a healthy weight and diet,” Dr Stephen Grobmyer, Oncology Institute chair at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

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Mitigating early onset

“In addition, know your body and family history, and seek help if anything changes. With these strategies and regular screenings, we can go a long way in reducing some of the findings we are seeing related to early onset breast cancer,” he added.

Dr Grobmyer was speaking on the sidelines of the seminar, which was organised during the month of breast cancer awareness by Abu Dhabi University, in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, and under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikh Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union (GWU), Chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation (FDF), and Mother of the Nation.

Breast cancer in UAE

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the UAE. As reported in a July 2022 article by UAE-based researchers in the Annals of Medicine and Surgery journal, a total of 1,030 new cases were diagnosed in 2020 alone, representing 21.4 per cent of all new cancer cases detected in the UAE that year.

Reducing the risk

Dr Nicole Sirotin, department chair for preventive medicine and executive health at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, said breast cancer also makes up more than 45 per cent of all cancers diagnosed in the UAE each year among patients below the age of 50 years. But the good news is that 40 per cent of all new cancers, and 50 per cent of cancer deaths, are preventable.

“Preventing these risks does not require extreme diets. [Prevention requires] simple actions like moderate physical activity 30 minutes a day, not smoking, not being obese, and adopting a high fibre diet,” she said.

Shared mechanisms

She added that cancer is, in large part, a lifestyle disease, even among those who have a genetic risk.

“Many of the same risk factors, like a poor diet and lack of exercise, contribute to many of these diseases. We know that there are relationships between having too much fat and cancer, and this also [increases the risk] of diabetes and heart disease. In turn, a recovering cancer patient who has a heart attack has a 60 per cent higher risk of the cancer coming back. This is because there are shared mechanisms [between all these diseases,” Dr Sirotin explained.

In fact, people who have a genetic predisposition for breast cancer should be even more careful, as unhealthy choices can further increase their risk. Dr Grobmyer highlighted some of the risk factors for breast cancer.

-Increasing age

-A personal history of breast conditions or breast cancer

-A family history of breast cancer

-Inherited genes that increase cancer risk

-Personal history of having had cancer

-Higher breast density

-Obstetric history, including never having children or having children at an older age

How to reduce breast cancer risk

A number of lifestyle choices can help mitigate cancer risk, Dr Sirotin said

-Eating less animal protein: A Mediterranean diet has, in fact, been shown to be most effective at reducing breast cancer risk. Limiting the consumption of red meat, alcohol and sweetened beverages is also beneficial.

-Exercising regularly: Undertaking at least 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise has been shown to reduce the risks of 13 types of cancer, including a 12 to 21 per cent reduction in breast cancer risk.

-Getting adequate sleep: About seven to eight hours of quality sleep is recommended.

-Maintaining social connections: This has been shown to help reduce stress, another risk factor.