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


Reactions to the crash of the Iranian president’s helicopter

Updated 4 sec ago
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Reactions to the crash of the Iranian president’s helicopter

  • Iraqi government said it instructed relevant bodies to offer help to neighboring Iran in the search mission

LONDON: Following are reactions from foreign governments and officials to the news that a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister crashed as it flew over mountain terrain in heavy fog on Sunday.

US STATE DEPARTMENT
“We are closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

US PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN
A spokesperson for President Biden, Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president had been briefed on the situation. She did not elaborate.

AZERI PRESIDENT ILHAM ALIYEV (Raisi was returning from Iran’s border with Azerbaijan when his helicopter crashed).
“Today, after bidding a friendly farewell to the (visiting) President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, we were profoundly troubled by the news of a helicopter carrying the top delegation crash-landing in Iran.”
“Our prayers to Allah Almighty are with President Ebrahim Raisi and the accompanying delegation. As a neighbor, friend, and brotherly country, the Republic of Azerbaijan stands ready to offer any assistance needed.”

IRAQI GOVERNMENT
The Iraqi government said in a statement it had instructed its interior ministry, the Red Crescent and other relevant bodies to offer help to neighboring Iran in the search mission.


UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

Updated 19 May 2024
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UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

  • Shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus

DUBAI: A UAE aid shipment carrying 252 tons of food arrived in Gaza bound for the north of the enclave, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

The shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus. The delivery involved cooperation from the US, Cyprus, UK, EU and UN.

The supplies were unloaded at UN warehouses in Deir Al-Balah and are awaiting distribution to Palestinians in need.

Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy said that the food supplies will be delivered and distributed in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian organizations, as part of the UAE’s efforts to provide relief and address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE, in accordance with its historical commitment to the Palestinian people and under the guidance of its leadership, continues to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza, she added.

Since the war began in October, the UAE has delivered more than 32,000 tons of urgent humanitarian supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 260 flights, 49 airdrops and 1,243 trucks.

The UAE delivery came as Israel closed the Rafah border crossing. The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.
 


Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan.
Updated 37 min 12 sec ago
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Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

  • IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials

DUBAI: A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister made a rough landing on Sunday as it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian news agencies said.
The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The semi-official Fars news agency urged Iranians to pray for Raisi and state TV carried prayers for his safety.
IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials.
Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down hard, and that authorities were awaiting further details.
Raisi, 63, was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.
In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.
But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi's main policies.


Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Updated 19 May 2024
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Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses comments as "washed-up words"
  • Broad splits emerge in Israeli war cabinet as Hamas regroups in northern Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.


US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

Updated 19 May 2024
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US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

  • Washington called on Tehran to rein in proxy forces
  • Officials sat in separate rooms with Omani intermediaries passing messages

LONDON: US and Iranian officials held talks in Oman last week aimed at reducing regional tensions, the New York Times reported.

Through intermediaries from Oman, Washington’s top Middle East official Brett McGurk and the deputy special envoy for Iran, Abram Paley, spoke with Iranian counterparts.

It was the first contact between the two countries in the wake of Iran’s retaliatory missile and drone attack on Israel in April.

The US officials, who communicated with their Iranian counterparts in a separate room — with Omani officials passing on messages — requested that Tehran rein in its proxy forces across the region.

The US has had no diplomatic contact with Iran since 1979, and communicates with the country using intermediaries and back channels.

Since the outbreak of the Gaza war last October, Iran-backed militias — including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and armed groups in Syria and Iraq — have ramped up attacks on Israeli and American targets.

But US officials have determined that neither Hezbollah nor Iran want an escalation and wider war.

After Israel struck Iran’s consulate in Damascus at the beginning of April, Tehran retaliated with hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones.

The attack — which was intercepted by air defense systems from Israel, the US and the UK, among others — was the first ever direct Iranian strike on Israel, which has for years targeted Iranian assets in Syria, whose government is a close ally of Tehran.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a news conference this week that the “Iranian threat” to Israel and US interests “is clear.”

He added: “We are working with Israel and other partners to protect against these threats and to prevent escalation into an all-out regional war through a calibrated combination of diplomacy, deterrence, force posture adjustments and use of force when necessary to protect our people and to defend our interests and our allies.”