Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) last week hosted an oncology course jointly with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), the American University of Beirut, and Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.
One of the lecturers on the course, Clifford Hudis, MD, Chief of the Breast Medicine Service at MSKCC and immediate Past-President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), praised the breast cancer awareness efforts in Qatar and joined HMC in encouraging women to be more breast aware. He urged women not to be afraid to seek prompt medical attention if they notice any changes in their breasts.
“Early detection of breast cancer is associated with improved outcomes. If a woman notices a change in her breasts, she should bring it to the attention of her doctor and not be afraid. She should also be sure to undergo mammography at regular intervals, depending on her age. We recommend once a year, in accordance with local standards,” he said.
Dr. Hudis pointed out that screening and awareness are the fundamental issues in breast cancer prevention. “Unlike the old days, women shouldn’t be afraid of a diagnosis of breast cancer because, if found early, most breast cancers are curable and outcomes are great.”
According to Dr Salha Bujassoum Al Bader, Senior Consultant Medical Oncologist at HMC’s National Center for Cancer Care and Research (NCCCR) and Chair of Breast Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT), breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Qatar.
She mentioned that, last year, a total of 200 breast cancer cases were diagnosed in Qatar and that the majority of those that were diagnosed at an early stage were cured of their cancers and proceeded to go on to live normal lives thereafter. “Those diagnosed in stage one or two have cure rate of around 90 percent,” she said.
“Breast cancer is the most common cancer here and currently one third of breast cancer cases here are discovered in the early stages. Sometimes we diagnose patients at later stage with a really big tumor but their cancer has fortunately not yet spread to other parts of their body. However, in a lot cases where a patient is diagnosed at a late stage the disease has unfortunately already spread,” Dr. Bujjasoum stated.
Speaking further, Dr. udis HudisHudisHudis maintained that, throughout adulthood, there is the need for individuals to be aware of the value of exercise and being active and also paying attention to the quality and volume of food that they eat to strive for a better balance in life. These can be important preventative measures for many health conditions.
“Breast cancer is one of those cancers for which screening is effective; and there is a standard for screening which can be implemented for most places in the world. These are evidence-based standards that everybody can strive to match. In addition to that, we have a better understanding of the molecular biology of breast cancer through research, and this has led to the discovery of new drugs.”
From the family and society’s point of view on cancer, Dr. Hudis said: “If someone gets cancer, it is not their fault. At the individual level, you can do everything right and may still get cancer. We don’t blame the patients or the family, it’s just the natural order of things, and the good thing is we can do something about it.”
Dr. Bujjasoum noted that the word ‘cancer’ is still regarded as taboo in the Arab community, as people do not even want to hear it. “In order to tackle the cancer taboo, we have been involved in awareness raising activities throughout the year to try to normalize the word ‘cancer’ and we are particularly focusing on holding more activities during the month of October, which is the international Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” she said.
She mentioned that HMC is holding a Breast Cancer Conference during this month as well as issuing a number of pamphlets containing key messages about breast cancer awareness to ensure early detection and awareness of signs and symptoms.
Dr. Bujjasoum said that HMC currently operates two breast cancer clinics, including a High Risk clinic for those with family history of breast cancer where screening and genetic testing are being carried out, “If patients test positive to genetic testing, we work with them to decide what is the best way forwards for them, in order to prevent them from getting breast cancer. This can be anything from regular surveillance to surgery.”
The other breast cancer clinic is for the rest of the population, with no family history of breast cancer, and this is currently located in Women’s Hospital, until the National Cancer Screening program is launched.
“Under the national screening program, every woman will be encouraged to go for screening when they reach the age of 45. But for those with family history of breast or ovarian cancer should go for screening as early as possible or get a referral to our High Risk clinic,” she concluded.
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