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Cancer, a formidable foe for centuries, is a condition the healthcare industry continues to actively confront to this day. Yet, within this battle across ages shines a beacon of hope — illuminating a future filled with positivity. This future offers a canvas of possibilities, with precision medicine, early detection and innovative treatment approaches painting a picture that is complex and hopeful in equal parts. While significant challenges persist, requiring ongoing research and innovation, the potential for new treatments and cures seems within reach, driven by groundbreaking advancements in science and technology.

In the realm of cancer treatment, a dynamic shift towards personalised medicine, multidisciplinary care, and innovative therapies has emerged. This evolution reflects a deep understanding of the disease and a commitment to improving patient outcomes.

Prof. Humaid Al Shamsi, Director of Oncology at Burjeel Holdings

For many, a cancer diagnosis marks the beginning of a challenging journey. However, for Prof. Humaid Al Shamsi, Director of Oncology at Burjeel Holdings, and Dr Soha Abdelbaky, Consultant Medical Oncologist at Medcare, it signifies the start of a multifaceted approach towards personalised treatment. “My approach to treating cancer is multifaceted, focusing on personalised medicine tailored to each patient’s condition,” explains Prof. Al Shamsi. This involves a comprehensive analysis of the patient’s type of cancer, stage, genetic makeup, and overall health.

Dr Abdelbaky echoes this sentiment, emphasising the importance of a multidisciplinary approach. “I follow a multidisciplinary approach to treating cancer, which provides a more tailored treatment depending on the patient’s unique characteristics,” she adds. “It typically includes a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy, depending on the type and stage of cancer.”

Early detection is key

When cancer is detected early, it is often localised to one area and more likely to be treated successfully. Both experts stress the significance of early cancer diagnosis. “Early cancer diagnosis is crucial as it significantly increases the chances of successful treatment,” says Prof. Al Shamsi. “Healthcare providers can educate the public on the importance of routine check-ups, especially for individuals at higher risk due to factors like age, family history, or lifestyle,” he says.

Prof. Al Shamsi says awareness campaigns, community health programmes, and collaborations with educational institutions can also help spread the message. “Encouraging people to engage in healthy behaviours and understand potential warning signs of cancer can lead to earlier diagnosis and better outcomes,” he says.

Dr Soha Abdelbaky, Consultant Medical Oncologist at Medcare

Dr. Abdelbaky emphasises that healthcare providers play a vital role in creating awareness about cancer symptoms and promoting regular screenings. “We need to educate the public about common signs and symptoms of cancer, and promote healthy lifestyle choices to reduce cancer risk,” she says.

According to Dr Tarek Alkhouri, Head of Medical Oncology at Advanced Care Oncology Center, although survival improves when cancer is detected early, about 50 per cent of cancers are at an advanced stage when diagnosed. “To achieve early detection of all cancers, numerous challenges must be overcome,” says Dr Alkhouri. “It is vital to better understand who is at greatest risk of developing cancer. “We also need to elucidate the biology and trajectory of precancer and early cancer to identify consequential disease that requires intervention. Insights must be translated into sensitive and specific early detection technologies and be appropriately evaluated to support practical clinical implementation.”

Dr Alkhouri explains that screening involves a systematic examination of an apparently healthy and asymptomatic population at risk with a test to detect the disease at an early stage. However, implementation is quite complex and resource-intensive. “Screening may be population-based (inviting the entire target population at the appropriate intervals) or opportunistic (at the initiation of the patient or upon invitation at an unrelated clinical encounter),” he says. “To date, screening of the general population is recommended only for cervical, colorectal, and female breast cancer, depending on a country’s resources.”

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Advancements in treatment

Over the years, cancer treatment has undergone significant changes. Initially, treatments were more generalised, but there has been a shift towards personalised medicine. “Advancements in genomic testing have enabled us to better understand the genetic basis of tumours, leading to more targeted therapies,” notes Prof. Al Shamsi.

Additionally, Prof. Al Shamsi says advancements in radiation therapy and minimally invasive surgical techniques have improved treatment outcomes while reducing side effects. “Integrating digital technology and AI in diagnostics and treatment planning is also a notable development,” he says.

Dr Tarek Alkhouri, Head of Medical Oncology at Advanced Care Oncology Center

Dr Abdelbaky highlights the emergence of targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and precision medicine as promising developments in cancer treatment. “Targeted therapies attack specific cancer cells, immunotherapy boosts the body’s immune response against cancer, and precision medicine uses genetic testing to personalise treatment plans,” says Dr Abdelbaky. “Promising developments include liquid biopsies for early cancer detection and gene editing technologies for more effective treatments.”

Role of research

Both experts agree on the pivotal role of research in advancing cancer treatment. “Research is pivotal in my practice and the cornerstone for advancing cancer treatment,” says Prof. Al Shamsi. “Participating in clinical trials is also essential, as it provides access to new therapies and contributes to the broader understanding of cancer treatment. My practice involves applying current research findings and contributing to future discoveries through clinical studies and collaborations with research institutions.”

Dr. Abdelbaky emphasises that staying updated on the latest research findings helps provide the best possible care for patients. “Research plays a vital role in my practice by informing treatment decisions, identifying new therapies, and improving patient care outcomes,” she says.

Future developments

Prof. Al Shamsi expressed his hopes for continued progress in precision medicine and immunotherapy, citing their potential for more effective and personalised treatments. “Advances in genetic sequencing and molecular profiling should be leveraged to develop therapies that target specific genetic mutations in tumours,” says Prof Al Shamsi. “I look forward to more breakthroughs in immunotherapy that can make it effective against a broader range of cancers and advancements in minimally invasive surgical techniques and more precise radiation therapies would be beneficial. I also envision more excellent digital health and AI integration in cancer care, improving diagnostics, treatment planning, and patient monitoring. Ultimately, I hope for advancements that improve survival rates and significantly enhance the quality of life for cancer patients.”

Dr Abdelbaky echoed these sentiments, emphasising the importance of personalised medicine and the development of more effective targeted therapies with fewer side effects.

Evolution of the medical profession

The medical profession has evolved significantly with cancer treatment, particularly in the shift towards more personalised and less invasive approaches. There has been a growing recognition of the importance of understanding different cancers’ genetic and molecular underpinnings, leading to more targeted therapies. “The role of multidisciplinary teams has become more pronounced, combining the expertise of oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, and others,” says Prof Al Shamsi. “The use of technology in diagnosis and treatment planning has significantly advanced, with imaging techniques becoming more sophisticated and the use of AI beginning to play a role in decision-making.”

There’s also been a greater emphasis on patient-centered care, recognising the importance of quality of life, psychological support, and palliative care in cancer treatment. The field has become more collaborative, with increased partnerships between clinicians, researchers, and pharmaceutical companies to accelerate the development of new therapies.

Dr Abdelbaky agrees that the medical profession has evolved significantly in relation to cancer treatment, with greater emphasis on personalised medicine, multidisciplinary care teams, and patient-centred approaches. “There’s also a growing recognition of the importance of survivorship care and supportive services for patients and their families,” she says.

Multidisciplinary approach revolutionises diagnosis

Dr Sivaprakash Rathanaswamy, Consultant, Oncology, Aster Hospital, Al Qusais, discusses how the hospital employs cutting-edge imaging technologies and a collaborative team approach to enhance accuracy and early detection in cancer diagnosis.

Dr Sivaprakash Rathanaswamy, Consultant, Oncology, Aster Hospital, Al Qusais

What advanced imaging technologies does Aster use for cancer diagnosis, and how do they enhance accuracy and early detection?

Aster Hospital offers ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI facilities along with interventional radiology for biopsy and other interventions for cancer detection. Even the smallest tumours identified by screening were targeted by guided biopsies thereby enabling early detection and treatment.

Can you describe the multidisciplinary approach Aster takes in diagnosing cancer, including the role of specialists like oncologists, radiologists, and pathologists?

We conduct weekly tumour board meetings with all oncologists, pathologists, and radiologists and discuss the optimal individualised treatment options for each patient.

How does Aster ensure timely and efficient communication of diagnostic results? What support services are available for those diagnosed with cancer?

We have coordinators in each department including oncology who effectively communicate with patients once reports are dispatched. We have support group services called Cosmos where we conduct regular meetings with survivors and extend our support in social financial rehabilitation and other supportive issues they face in daily life.