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
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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


German FM to travel to Middle East next week

Updated 56 min 58 sec ago
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German FM to travel to Middle East next week

  • On Tuesday, she will hold talks with Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Mustafa in Ramallah
  • Baerbock will travel to Lebanon for talks with officials in Beirut, including the migration minister

BERLIN: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will visit the Middle East next week, Berlin said Friday, as the Gaza war grinds on and fears grow of a wider regional conflict.
Baerbock will travel to Israel Monday immediately after a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
On arrival in Israel, Baerbock — who has visited the region several times since the start of the Israel-Hamas war — will give a speech at the Herzliya Security Conference.
On Tuesday, she will hold talks with Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Mustafa in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.
Baerbock will also meet with the Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz in Jerusalem.
Subsequently, Baerbock will travel to Lebanon for talks with officials in Beirut, including the migration minister.
Baerbock’s discussions with officials would focus on “the war in Gaza and the continuing catastrophic humanitarian situation,” as well as “the question of what a future could look like that allows Israelis and Palestinians to live together in safety,” the ministry spokeswoman said.
“In the Palestinian territories, the situation in the West Bank will also be a focus, as will the reform efforts of the Palestinian Authority,” the spokeswoman said.
“The particularly tense and dangerous situation on the border between Israel and Lebanon,” would also be discussed on the trip.
More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territory and repeated UN warnings of famine.
The October Hamas attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.


Darfur sees an increase in much needed food aid, but it’s still not enough to avert famine, UN says

Updated 21 June 2024
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Darfur sees an increase in much needed food aid, but it’s still not enough to avert famine, UN says

  • WFP said in an update that five convoys carrying 5,000 tons of food aid have crossed from neighboring Chad into Darfur since the beginning of 2024
  • Famine looms in parts of Sudan, which has been engulfed by violence since April of last year

CAIRO: Families in Sudan’s embattled western Darfur region have finally received an emergency increase in food aid that is much needed to help avert looming famine, the UN food agency said Thursday.
The World Food Program said in an update that five convoys carrying 5,000 tons of food aid have crossed from neighboring Chad into Darfur since the beginning of 2024.
Some aid trucks entered the region on June 10 and completed deliveries in southern Darfur on Thursday, Leni Kinzli, the head of communications at WFP’s Sudan office, told The Associated Press. Distribution was continuing in central and western Darfur.
“The food distribution is an emergency scale-up to avert famine and to get to those people in the highest level of food insecurity to prevent widespread starvation,” Kinzli said. “But, we need to continue to do more and expand access and we’re working on possibly opening new corridors from South Sudan and Egypt and also expanding crossline access from Port Sudan into the Darfur region.”
Famine looms in parts of Sudan, which has been engulfed by violence since April of last year. That’s when tensions between leaders of the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces erupted into intense fighting and spread across the country, including to Darfur.
The latest WFP distribution was part of two aid convoys that made their way to Sudan over the past weeks, carrying enough assistance for more than 245,000 people. The first convoy crossed on May 23 and delivered aid for 117,000 people in South and Central Darfur states.
“We aren’t just delivering for immediate needs but ensuring people have enough to get through the coming months,” said Kinzli. “Especially in those areas that we anticipate will become harder to reach when the road conditions further deteriorate in the rains in the coming weeks.”
In May, the WFP said in a report that at least 1.7 million people are already experiencing emergency levels of hunger in Darfur, including in Al Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state that is besieged by RSF.
Some of the challenges in reaching communities in Darfur include securing access through negotiations, which Kinzli described as “complicated” because many of the checkpoints are controlled by different armed groups. She added that getting aid into places with intense fighting such as Al Fasher is extremely dangerous.
Some WFP aid trucks encountered mechanical issues in the most recent food aid delivery because of deteriorating road conditions. Still, three more WFP convoys carrying food and nutritious commodities are planned to enter Darfur in the coming weeks from Chad through the Tine crossing to help 675,000 people.
Carlos Perea-Milla, with the logistics team for Sudan at the international humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger, told the AP that Tine, which leads to North Darfur state, is the only authorized crossing point for UN agencies. The Adre crossing point, occasionally used by humanitarian organizations, provides access to RSF-controlled areas. The UN’s humanitarian agency is pushing for Adre to be used as the other official crossing point to Sudan.


One dead in Tunisia military helicopter crash: ministry

Updated 21 June 2024
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One dead in Tunisia military helicopter crash: ministry

  • The ministry did not specify the type of helicopter involved

TUNIS: A Tunisian military helicopter crashed Friday during exercises in Gafsa province, killing one crewman and injuring another, the defense ministry said.
“The accident occurred during a normal maneuver and the aircraft’s descent,” ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri told AFP.
“The helicopter crew, which consisted of two personnel, was taken to the military hospital in Gafsa. One of them died and the other was in stable condition.”
The ministry did not specify the type of helicopter involved.
The Tunisian military has lost several aircraft on training or reconnaissance missions in recent years.
In June 2023, four personnel died when a helicopter crashed off the country’s northwest coast.
In October 2021, three were killed in another accident during a night exercise in the southern province of Gabes.


Iranians split on presidential vote as hardships mount

Updated 21 June 2024
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Iranians split on presidential vote as hardships mount

  • The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women

TEHRAN: With just a week remaining before a presidential election, Iranians are divided over whether voting will address pressing economic issues and mandatory hijab laws.
Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates — five conservatives and a relative reformist — to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month.
The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women.
“They promise change, but won’t do much,” said Hamid Habibi, a 54-year-old shop owner at Tehran’s bustling Grand Bazar.
“I’ve watched the debates and campaigns; they speak beautifully but need to back their words with action,” he said.
Despite his skepticism, Habibi plans to vote next week.
The candidates have held two debates, each pledging to tackle the financial challenges impacting the country’s 85 million people.
“The economic situation is deteriorating daily, and I don’t foresee any improvements,” said Fariba, a 30-year-old who runs an online store.
“Regardless of who wins, our lives won’t change,” she said.


Others, like 57-year-old baker Taghi Dodangeh, remain hopeful.
“Change is certain,” he said, viewing voting as a religious duty and national obligation.
But Jowzi, a 61-year-old housewife, expressed doubts, especially about the candidate line-up.
“There’s hardly any differences between the six,” she said. “One cannot say any of them belongs to a different group.”
Iran’s Guardian Council approved six candidates after disqualifying most moderates and reformists.
Leading contenders include conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the sole reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian.
Keshvar, a 53-year-old mother, intends to vote for the candidate with the most robust economic plan.
“Young people are grappling with economic hardships,” she said.
“Raisi made efforts, but on the ground, things didn’t change much for the general public, and they were unhappy.”
In the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, many voters stayed away, resulting in a participation rate just under 49 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.


Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged a high voter turnout.
Yet, 26-year-old shopkeeper Mahdi Zeinali said he would only vote if a candidate proves to be “the right person.”
This election comes at a turbulent time, with the Gaza war raging between Iran’s adversary Israel and Tehran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas, along with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
Compulsory hijab laws remain contentious, particularly since mass protests triggered by the 2022 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, was detained for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women, who are required to cover their heads and necks and wear modest clothing in public.
Despite increased enforcement, many women, especially in Tehran, defy the dress code.
Fariba expressed concern that after the election, “things would go back to where they were,” and young women won’t be able to remove their headscarves.
Jowzi, an undecided voter who wears a veil, regards it as a “personal” choice and opposes state interference.
“It makes no difference who becomes president,” she said.
“What’s important is what they actually do. It’s not important to me whether or not they have a turban. They need to act humanely.”


Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

Updated 21 June 2024
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Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

  • A series of countries have recognized Palestine amid Israel's ongoing war in Gaza
  • Israel is a major arms supplier to Armenia's long-time arch-foe neighbor Azerbaijan

YEREVAN: Armenia announced Friday its recognition of the State of Palestine, the latest country to do so during the war in Gaza, saying it was against “violence toward civilian populations.”
A series of countries have recognized the State of Palestine amid the war between Israel and Hamas, drawing strong rebukes from Israeli officials.
“Confirming its commitment to international law, equality of nations, sovereignty and peaceful coexistence, the Republic of Armenia recognizes the State of Palestine,” Yerevan said.
Armenia added that it is “genuinely interested in establishing long-term peace and stability in the Middle-East.”
Yerevan, which has itself been ridden by conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan for decades, slammed Israel’s military conduct in Gaza.
“Armenia deplores using civilian infrastructure as shields during armed conflicts and violence toward civilian populations,” the ministry said.
It also deplored Hamas for “the captivity of civilian persons” and said it “joins the demands of international community on freeing them.”
A senior official from the Palestinian Authority, Hussein Al-Sheikh, welcomed the move.
“This is a victory for right, justice, legitimacy and the struggle of our Palestinian people for liberation and independence,” Al-Sheikh said on social media.
“Thank you our friend Armenia.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
Israel is a major arms supplier to Armenia’s arch-foe neighbor Azerbaijan, with which Yerevan had been locked in a decades-long territorial dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region that Baku recaptured last year from Armenian separatists.