Breast cancer survivors urge women in the Middle East to seek timely screening

In Arab countries, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed form of the disease, which is why every October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 25 October 2020

Breast cancer survivors urge women in the Middle East to seek timely screening

  • Every October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month tells women not to neglect checkups
  • In Arab countries, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed form of the disease

DUBAI: Breast cancer is the most common form of the illness diagnosed in women worldwide. If caught early, the prognosis for survival is reassuringly high. But a lack of awareness, common myths and fear of bad news causes far too many women to delay getting checked.

In Arab countries, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed form of the disease. One recent study found 17.7 to 19 percent of all new cancer cases across the region in 2018 were breast cancer diagnoses.

That is why every October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when experts meet to discuss the latest treatments, charities raise awareness and private clinics offer special discounts on tests and screenings.

Cancer survivors are frequently asked to share their experiences, whether in small private groups or at large public gatherings, and the distinctive pink ribbon synonymous with the cause proliferates on blouses and lapels the world over.

While pandemic restrictions have forced many events online, this year has been no exception. And the message is getting across. Oncologists, surgeons, radiologists and other medical practitioners in the field are often fully booked this time of year.

“I think the essence is to try and get the whole world to just refocus,” Dr. Millicent Alache Bello, a renowned breast surgeon at King’s College Hospital in Dubai, told Arab News.

 

“It is important all through the year that breast education and breast awareness continues. However, a specific month for people to just refocus and take stock is vital.”

Women are recommended to begin getting annual mammograms from the age of 40, when the likelihood of developing breast cancer increases.

“In this part of the world, screening is not something done nationally. Screening is done ad hoc, meaning people go when they feel like it,” said Bello.

In the UK, general practitioners working for the taxpayer-funded National Health Service keep detailed medical records on every patient and remind them when they are due to receive a screening exam. This is not the case in Arab countries, where health services are insurance-based.

King’s College Hospital in Dubai wants to imitate the British system and to begin reminding its patients when they are due a check-up. It has already started compiling patient data and will soon offer mammograms at a cost of AED 350 ($95).

 

Routine check-ups and on-time screenings pay off. “The point where a woman feels a lump in her breast is not the point when the breast cancer started,” Bello warned. “Sometimes, it started before that period, anything up to 12, 14 or 24 months earlier.”

That is why it is so important to get screened regularly before the trouble signs emerge.

Catherine, a British cancer survivor in her 40s, says she used to be disciplined with her screening appointments, often getting tested twice a year. But after having children, she began neglecting her checks. It was during this six-year window that she developed a lump.

“I was so busy being a mom, I just forgot about myself,” Catherine told Arab News. By the time she was diagnosed, the tumor in one of her breasts already measured eight centimeters in diameter.

After a double mastectomy, the pathology report showed her other breast also contained three cancerous lumps. “I was very pragmatic about it. I didn’t feel this massive emotional connection to my breasts. If they try to kill me, they have to go,” she said.

Women should not make the same mistake and neglect their health, she says, even when other life pressures take over. Now Catherine devotes her time to charity work during Breast Cancer Awareness Month to raise funds and awareness.

Joining her is Ghozlan, an Arab woman and fellow survivor, who says she discovered a lump in her breast while exercising. She traveled to Europe for treatment and opted for reconstruction.

“I am a woman who cares about her femininity and I can’t live without it,” Ghozlan told Arab News, describing her breast implant, which must be replaced every 10 years. “It was not what I expected. It wasn’t a great result but it is better than nothing. I have been through hell, and now I accept what I have. I am living with it, but I have some side effects because of the implant.”

Ghozlan is now anxiously awaiting her next check-up with her doctor in Europe, which had to be pushed back due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

Another woman fundraising for Breast Cancer Awareness Month is Gina, a 58-year-old who, like Catherine, underwent a double mastectomy. Unlike Ghozlan, she was unable to undergo reconstructive surgery.

INNUMBERS

Breast Cancer

* 2.1m Women diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

* 627,000 Estimated breast-cancer deaths in 2018 (WHO).

* 50 Age above which women are most at risk.

* 17.7-19% Share of all cancer cases in Arab world in 2018.

* 20% Drop in mortality due to regular mammograms (WHO).

“Due to my autoimmune disease, the chances of the prosthesis being rejected by my body was very high,” Gina said. “It was not my voluntary choice. It was a shock to me. I must admit, even today, after five years, I have not 100 percent accepted this situation.”

Gina has since resigned from her job to commit herself entirely to charity work.

With the evolution of technology and other scientific advancements, doctors are getting even better at detecting potential problems — faster and more accurately.

The triple assessment — clinical examination, imaging and biopsy — has changed little over recent years, but equipment offering more sensitive scans has developed in leaps and bounds while surgery techniques have become more refined.




Participants take part in the Pink Caravan Ride in Dubai, a UAE breast cancer initiative. (AFP/File Photo)

“It is the oncology, the medicine we give for hemotherapy and the endocrine treatments — they have moved on in quantum leaps, which is fantastic news,” said Bello.

Scientists have come to understand that treatment plans are not always the same for all breast cancer patients and that the most effective surgeries and therapies are unique to the individual.

“No two women have the same breast cancer,” said Bello. “Every woman’s cancer is different because the genetic composition is different. This is why people are doing better now, because the treatment is tailored individually.”

But this can also mean reconstruction surgery is not an option for everyone, and is dependent on body type, the extent of the cancer, the patient’s medical history and personal preference.




A picture taken on October 1, 2020 shows the Eiffel Tower illuminated in pink to mark the start of "Octobre Rose" (Pink October) or Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Paris. (AFP/File Photo)

“Reconstruction is designed to improve your well-being; it is not supposed to interfere with cancer treatment,” Bello said.

High-income countries in Europe and North America appear to have much higher rates of breast cancer largely because screening and early detection are so prevalent. With a more limited testing capacity, the Arab world appears to have a lower rate of cases — but also a high mortality rate.

A retrospective epidemiological study conducted in 2012 found that breast cancer was the leading cause of death among Saudi women.

However, a paper published in 2018 by the Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health said: “Although the incidence of breast cancer in Arab countries is rising, it is still less than the global average and only one-fifth of that in Western Europe.”

But now is not a time for complacency. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a reminder to all women to get themselves checked and for governments to invest in clinics and vital research.

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Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit

Updated 20 sec ago

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit

RABAT: Spain and Morocco have agreed to set aside their differences, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday, as they seek to repair a relationship marked by
frequent disputes over migration and territory.
Sanchez was speaking at a summit in Rabat where the two countries signed as many as 20 agreements to boost trade and investment, including credit lines of up to 800 million euros ($873 million).
“We have agreed on a commitment to mutual respect, whereby in our discourse and in our political practice we will avoid everything that we know offends the other party, especially regarding our respective spheres of sovereignty,” Sanchez said.
There have been regular diplomatic crises over Spain’s enclaves in Africa, Morocco’s dispute with rebels over the Western Sahara, and the arrival of thousands of illegal migrants in Spain each year through Morocco.
Morocco refuses to recognize Spanish sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, but last year the two countries agreed to open the first customs control points between the two.
Madrid says that reflects Rabat’s recognition of the enclaves as foreign territory, but Morocco has not confirmed the development and has given no public statement indicating that its long-held stance that the enclaves should be part of its territory has changed.
Sanchez restored cordial relations with Rabat in March 2022 after he reversed former colonial master Spain’s four-decade policy on the Western Sahara by backing Morocco’s proposal to create an autonomous region.
Forging peace between the neighbors has forced Sanchez’s Socialists into some uncomfortable positions.
Last month, its MEPs voted against a resolution in the European Parliament to call on Morocco to improve its record on press freedom. MEP Juan Fernando Lopez said this week that maintaining cordial neighborly relations sometimes involved “swallowing a toad.”
Spain’s about-turn on Western Sahara drew the ire of Algeria, a Polisario Front ally, which suspended trade with Spain and warned it could cut the flow of natural gas even as it forges closer gas ties with Italy.
In Rabat on Thursday, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch expressed satisfaction at Spain’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan as the “most credible solution” to resolve the Western Sahara dispute, but did not reference an agreement to set aside all sovereignty disputes.

Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

Updated 02 February 2023

Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

  • The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Quran-burning incidents in some European countries
  • The US and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance

ANKARA: Turkiye on Thursday slammed a group of Western countries that temporarily closed down their consulates in Istanbul over security concerns, accusing them of waging “psychological warfare” and attempting to wreck Turkiye’s tourism industry.
Germany, the Netherlands and Britain were among countries that shut down their consulates in the city of around 16 million people this week. The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Qur’an-burning incidents in some European countries. The United States and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the consulate closures and travel warnings were part of a Western plot to prevent a rebound in Turkiye’s tourism sector following the coronavirus pandemic.
“On a day when we declared our aim of (attracting) 60 million tourists, at a time when 51.5 million tourists arrived and we obtained $46 billion in tourism revenue, they were on the verge of starting a new psychological warfare (against) Turkiye,” said Soylu, who is known for his anti-Western rhetoric.
The minister said Turkiye had conducted as many as 60 operations against the Daesh group so far this year and detained 95 people. Last year, close to 2,000 Daesh suspects were detained in more than 1,000 operations against the group, he said.
Earlier this week, the Interior Ministry said Turkish authorities had detained a number of suspects following a warning from a “friendly country,” but hadn’t found any weapons, ammunition or sign of a planned act of violence.
In November, a bombing on Istanbul’s bustling Istiklal Avenue, located in the heart of the city and near a number of foreign consulates, killed six people and wounded several others. Turkish authorities blamed the attack on Kurdish militants.
Last weekend, Turkiye’s foreign ministry issued a travel warning for European countries due to anti-Turkish demonstrations and what it described as Islamophobia. The warning followed demonstrations the week before outside the Turkish Embassy in Sweden, where an anti-Islam activist burned the Qur’an and pro-Kurdish groups protested against Turkiye.
In a related development, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador to ask for a protest planned for Friday in the Scandinavian country to be prevented because there would be an “attack” on the Qur’an during the event, Turkiye’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported Thursday.
Norwegian newspaper VG said a group called Stop Islamization of Norway planned to burn the Qur’an outside the Turkish Embassy in Oslo on Friday.
The group’s leader, Lars Thorsen, told VG that he planned to carry out his protest “in the context of Turkiye’s intolerance of Western values of freedom.”
Recent demonstrations in Europe where activists desecrated Islam’s holy book have infuriated Muslims in Turkiye and elsewhere.
Anadolu said the Norwegian ambassador was told that the planned action would constitute a “hate crime” that should not be allowed.


Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

Updated 02 February 2023

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

  • Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010
  • Panahi has won several international awards

DUBAI: Iranian film director Jafar Panahi has started a hunger strike in prison to protest against authorities’ refusal to release him temporarily on bail pending retrial, the activist HRANA news agency reported on Thursday.
Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010, amid a stepped-up crackdown on dissent in the Islamic Republic.
“According to the law, I should have been released on bail after my request for retrial was accepted but my case has been delayed for more than 100 days,” the 62-year-old film director wrote in a letter, according to HRANA.
“This is in stark contrast with the speedy trials of innocent youth which are brought to the gallows 30 days after their arrest,” added the director, who won the Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or prize for his 1995 movie “White Balloon.”
There was no immediate reaction to the HRANA report from Iranian authorities on state media.
Iran’s judiciary said in July Panahi would serve a six-year sentence over charges of “propaganda against the system” and inciting opposition protests after the 2009 election that led to months of political turmoil.
Since then, nationwide protests sparked by the death in police custody of Kurdish Iranian young woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 2022 have represented one of the toughest challenges to the Islamic Republic.
At least four people have been hanged since the demonstrations started, according to the judiciary. Iran has accused foreign enemies of fomenting the unrest.
Panahi has won several international awards, including the 2015 Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear for his film “Taxi.”


Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran

Updated 02 February 2023

Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran

  • The pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program”
  • Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine

PARIS: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron Thursday, hoping to gain support against Iran’s nuclear program but shadowed by an upsurge of violence in the region.
Israel’s Paris embassy said the pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program.”
Netanyahu hopes that Iran’s role supplying drones to Russian invaders in Ukraine as well as the crackdown on protests at home will prompt Western allies to drop any pursuit of a revival of the 2015 deal over its atomic drive.
The prime minister has also said Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine, apparently dropping its previously more neutral stance over the conflict.
France agrees that “firmness” is needed in dealings with Iran, a diplomatic source told AFP, calling its nuclear program “dangerous” and highlighting its role in the Ukraine war.
Tehran also holds several foreign nationals who Western governments see as political hostages.
But Macron’s office said the French leader would “reiterate (to Netanyahu) the need for all sides to avoid measures likely to feed the cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians — while offering “France’s solidarity with Israel in the face of terrorism.”
Netanyahu visits as Israelis and Palestinians exchanged rockets and missiles over Gaza, the latest violent episode as the conflict intensifies.
A week ago, seven were killed in a mass shooting by a Palestinian at a synagogue in annexed east Jerusalem — one day after an Israeli raid in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians.
In France until Saturday, Netanyahu is also set to meet French business chiefs and leaders of the country’s Jewish community, the Israeli embassy said.


Israel steps up demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem, West Bank

Updated 02 February 2023

Israel steps up demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem, West Bank

  • Properties were razed in city’s Sur Baher, Wadi Al-Hummus and Silwan neighborhoods on Wednesday
  • Al-Khan Al-Ahmar residents stage sit-in amid fears of displacement as deadline to leave village expired

RAMALLAH: Israeli authorities have stepped up the demolition of Palestinian homes in parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, following a policy formulated by extreme right-wing ministers in the country’s new government, local leaders say.

On Wednesday, Israeli bulldozers knocked down buildings in the Sur Baher, Wadi Al-Hummus and Silwan neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Rights activists urged people to publicly denounce the demolitions by posting messages on social media sites such as Twitter.

They also called on the Palestinian Authority, the international community and global institutions to intervene immediately to force Israel to halt the demolitions and displacements that threaten the Palestinian community in Jerusalem.

Since the beginning of this January, occupation forces have razed 30 homes in a number of the historic city’s neighborhoods. Last year, 211 Palestinian homes were demolished in Jerusalem.

In the village of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, a sit-in protest by villagers and activists from the Palestinian Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission continued for a second day on Wednesday.

Residents of the village and surrounding Bedouin communities fear Israeli authorities will demolish their homes, after a final six-month deadline for them to leave expired on Wednesday.

Eid Khamis Jahalin, a Bedouin leader from Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, told Arab News that people are scared that Israeli bulldozers will destroy the village and displace its 250 residents.

“The electoral program of both Itamar Bin-Gvir (the new Israeli national security minister) and Bezalel Yoel Smotrich (the minister of finance) is based on the demolition of Al-Khan Al-Hamar and the displacement of its inhabitants,” he said.

Hussein Al-Sheikh, from the Palestine Liberation Organization, called on the international community to intervene immediately to halt the demolition carried out by Israeli occupation forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which he described as a continuation of a policy of displacement and “apartheid.” He said the Palestinian leadership would meet on Friday to discuss ways to respond.

Elsewhere, Israeli army forces continued to besiege Jericho, in the eastern West Bank, for a fifth day on Wednesday as they searched for two young men responsible for an attempted gun attack on a settlers’ restaurant at the entrance to the city five days ago.

Critics accused Israeli authorities of imposing a collective punishment policy in the city by obstructing the free movement of residents, searching their cars and checking their identities, resulting in long queues and people being stuck in their vehicles for hours.

Journalist Adel Abu Nima from Jericho told Arab News that the Israeli army on Saturday set up military checkpoints at all main entrances to Jericho city and its camps, Aqbat Jabr and Ein Al-Sultan, and blocked secondary entrances with mounds of earth, causing great disruption to the lives of city residents and visitors.

“Some citizens and workers wait at the Israeli military checkpoints for four hours, and some are prevented from leaving Jericho,” Abu Nima said.

Jericho is the only place from which 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank can travel to other countries, so the checkpoints have affected people traveling abroad and those who are returning.

“As a journalist covering the events in West Bank, including Jenin and Nablus, I have not seen such Israeli military measures against entire cities as is happening now against Jericho,” Abu Nima said.

Meanwhile, an Israeli human rights organization has accused Israeli authorities of tolerating settler violence against Palestinians for more than 17 years.

Yesh Din said in a report published on Feb. 1 that only 3 percent of cases of ideological crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank during that time resulted in convictions and 93 percent of cases were closed with no indictment filed.

Data contained in the report showed that between 2005 and 2022, Israeli police failed to investigate 81.5 percent of alleged crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians and their property.

The researchers said: “The state of Israel is evading its duty to protect Palestinians from Israelis who seek to harm them in the West Bank, as international law requires.

“Yesh Din’s long-term monitoring of the results of police investigations into incidents of ideological crime committed by Israelis demonstrates the enduring systemic failures of the Israeli authorities to enforce the law on Israeli civilians who harm Palestinians and their property in occupied territory.

“The fact that this systemic failure has persisted for at least two decades indicates that this is a deliberate policy of the state of Israel, which normalizes ideological settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, supports it and then reaps the rewards resulting from it.”

In another development, the Israeli Cabinet is due to discuss a decision to stop recognizing degrees awarded by Palestinian universities.

Avi Dichter, the Israeli agriculture minister, who previously was chief of the Israeli spy agency Shin Bet, said: “During the studies of Palestinian students from Israel in Palestinian universities, they are exposed to anti-Israel materials and messages, with which they return to the country and pass on to their students.”

Sheeran Haskel, a member of the Likud Party, claimed that more than 20 percent of teachers in Arab schools in Israel had graduated from Palestinian universities “after they absorbed the implications of portraying Israel as an enemy.”

Thousand of Palestinians who live in Israel study at universities in the West Bank.