190122 breast cancer awareness
Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC) in Abu Dhabi has launched a new support group for breast cancer patients Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC) in Abu Dhabi has launched a new support group for breast cancer patients as part of its awareness campaign to combat the disease.

The campaign also carried out a survey of 300 women aged 40 years and older to tackle key misconceptions around breast cancer awareness, and found that 41 per cent of them had never undergone a routine mammogram screening for breast cancer, the hospital said.

Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women in Abu Dhabi, accounting for almost half of cancers diagnosed. Half of breast cancer cases develop in women who have no identifiable breast cancer risk factor other than their age.

In the SSMC survey, eight out of every 10 women have had breast cancer or know someone who has fought the disease. Half of the respondents also expressed a reluctance to get screened. The survey found that 31 per cent of the women felt they did not need a mammogram because they were healthy, while 26 per cent were fearful of the results. Another 25 per cent did not want to get screened because they did not have a family member with breast cancer, whereas nine per cent of the women were embarrassed to get screened and nine per cent did not want to be judged.

SSMC, one of the UAE’s largest hospitals which is operated in a partnership between public health provider Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) and US-based health research facility Mayo Clinic, is therefore conducting an intensive awareness campaign this October. It has set up booths at the Yas Mall Townsquare, and is inviting residents to speak with physicians and nurses.

Story of hope

In addition, at the first session of its breast cancer support group, attendees heard from Sara, a 45-year-old Sudanese mother who shared her story of hope as a breast cancer survivor.

“We are delighted about the success of our first session kicking off SSMC’s support group. It was so heartwarming to see so many women and their families come together and hear from them. Through these sessions, we want to drive that message of hope and strength to more and more women fighting breast cancer here in the UAE, and make sure that they not only feel supported but also better informed about their condition,” said Dr Aisha Alsalami, medical oncology consultant.

Speaking about her experience, Sara highlighted the importance of support groups for patients.

“I know exactly how it feels to hear that diagnosis. It can be really tough, so much so that I did not even tell my family and friends at the beginning. That’s how scared I was. But being able to sit down with them and explain what I was feeling was so reassuring for not only me, but for them as well. That is why support groups like this are so important, so that we can spread the message to women that they are not alone on their journey,” she said.

Need for awareness

According to SSMC’s survey, one in five women think that breast cancer cannot be prevented, while 10 per cent believe that once one has breast cancer, it cannot be treated. Half of the women surveyed also think that wearing a tight undergarment presents a risk factor for developing breast cancer. The findings highlight the need for continued awareness and education, SSMC said.

“To contribute to the UAE’s health care vision, as one of the UAE’s largest hospitals centred around taking care of patients with serious and complex diseases such as cancer, we are committed to elevating the level of awareness about cancer prevention and benefit of early detection. This is our responsibility to promote health and wellness in our community,” said Dr Naser Ammash, CEO at SSMC.