Oncologists around the world are reinforcing the need to lead a healthy lifestyle and to ensure preventive screenings are not missed in a bid to reduce the number of cancer cases globally and that cases are detected on time and not in the later stages as late diagnosis directly affects outcome and survival rates. According to the WHO, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Globally, about one in six deaths is due to cancer.
Better Health spoke to Dr Syed Hammad Tirmazy, Oncologist and Head of Oncology at Dubai Hospital, ahead of World Cancer Day on February 4.
He said that despite the global awareness campaigns, there is a need to reinforce the importance of screening and timely detection. “In the case of breast, bowel and cervical cancer, the number of patients we receive as a direct result of preventive screening is still minimal. In most instances, patients seek medical advice when they are symptomatic or are diagnosed incidentally upon investigation for another disease. Detection in the later stages affects the prognosis and the survival rate.
“We need to reinforce the importance of a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise, healthy eating habits and most certainly tobacco cessation.”
According to the WHO, smoking, alcohol, an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are major cancer risk factors worldwide and are the four-shared risk factors for other non-communicable diseases as well. In fact, tobacco use is the most important risk factor for cancer, responsible for approximately 22 per cent of cancer deaths.
“We also need to educate the public on the importance of routine screening for breast, bowel and cervical cancer,” says Dr Tirmazy.
As per the WHO, 30–50 per cent of cancers can be prevented by avoiding risk factors and implementing existing evidence-based prevention strategies. The cancer burden can also be reduced through early detection and management of patients who develop cancer. Many cancers have a high chance of cure if diagnosed early and treated adequately.
Dr Tirmazy says, “We received more than 600 new cancer cases in Dubai Hospital in 2019. Of these cases, the vast majority presented in advanced stage at the time of diagnosis. Moreover, number of screen-detected cases were a minority. Although screening for breast, bowel and cervical cancer is simple and available.
“For cervical cancer screening and prevention, there are two aspects. One is the importance of the HPV vaccine and the other is regular pap-smear tests in consultation with a gynaecologist. For breast cancer, women over 40 should undergo mammogram screenings. Those with a family history of cancer should ensure they discuss their screening schedule and the age they need to begin screening with their primary healthcare physician.
“Additionally, I would strongly recommend undergoing annual health screening.”
Dr Tirmazy says that since June 2018, DHA has introduced screening and treatment for breast, bowel and cervical cancers under the Basmah initiative. DHA also introduced screening and treatment for hepatitis C. To date, 107 cancer patients have enrolled in BASMA programme and 14 patients have enrolled in HCV patient support programme.
Both these programmes are aimed to benefit lower salary band workers, as they are available for Essential Benefit Plan holders.