Abu Dhabi: A Dh13 million mobile mammography screening unit has been offering women over 40 free screening during the three-day Middle East Obstetrics-Gynaecology Congress & Exhibition 2009 at the National Exhibition Centre which ends today.

The mobile screening unit, which was donated to Tawam Hospital last year, offers the mammogram screening across remote areas in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and the Western Region.

The mobile mammography exam is an x-ray exam of the breast that is used to detect and diagnose breast disease, both in women who have no breast disease or symptoms and in women who have symptoms of breast disease (lumps or nipple discharge).

One of the barriers women face when choosing to attend a mammography session, is the distance and time required to reach a fixed centre in a large city.

Due to the extensive geography of the UAE and the location of regional centres and rural communities, the mobile screening unit is a viable proposition compared with building permanent clinics or offering much more expensive hospital treatment if symptoms were to go undiagnosed.

"The vehicle targets primary healthcare centres closest to the patients' home. We usually schedule appointments with the gynaecologist or the entity before we visit the destination and see around 20 women, if not more, in each area a day. In the six months we have screened over 400 women and the [number] keeps increasing," Enas Taher, the nurse in charge of the mobile mammogram unit during the exhibition, told Gulf News.

According to Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) statistics show that nearly 70 per cent of cancers across Abu Dhabi are detected late, with over 150 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in Abu Dhabi each year alone.

After learning these statistics HAAD developed a two-year plan to spend approximately Dh80 million on breast cancer facilities and campaigns.

The manager for the Breast Cancer Centre at Tawam Hospital said that in the last one month alone, 75 women were screened using the mobile unit.

"With more awareness with regards to our services, we tend to screen more women, which is great. Where we go depends on weather conditions and demand, but we have already visited various hospitals, schools and universities and done free mammogram exams," she said.

According to reports published by Tawam Hospital, a screening mammogram takes only 15-20 minutes, and is the best way of detecting cancer early but, like other screening tests, is not perfect.

Not all cancers will be detected through screening - some cancers cannot be seen on the screening mammogram, some cancers develop during the time between mammograms and there is a slim chance that in the process of taking and reading the mammogram the cancer will be missed.

A screening mammogram could also detect abnormalities in the breast tissue which may necessitate further tests, but later turns out not to be cancer. These incidents are known as false positives.

However, the potential benefits of screening mammograms far outweigh the possible harms.