Breast cancer is a serious illness – according to US-based advocacy group Susan G Komen for the Cure, a woman dies from breast cancer worldwide every 75 seconds. In Doha specifically, data provided by Al Amal Hospital states that 20 per cent of all cancer cases treated in 2007 were breast cancer among women, and the Gulf Centre for Cancer Registration ranked Qatar as having the third-highest number of cases in the Middle East, behind Bahrain and Kuwait, from 1988-2002.
If detected early, breast cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, but in many parts of the world outside of the US and Western Europe, awareness of the disease remains low – as a result, the number of advanced cases is higher. It is also feared that due to this lack of education and social stigma, Arabic women in particular delay the request of treatment. The University of Calgary – Qatar has just started a research programme looking at how Qatari women view breast cancer screening, to help develop treatments and education activities that are more culturally sensitive.
But it is not just the Arabic population at risk. As Dr Houriya Kazim, a specialist breast surgeon at the Well Woman Clinic in Dubai and founder of online support group Brest Friends (www.brestfriends.org), observed, not only are there more advanced cases in the region, but the ages of sufferers is getting younger. ‘When I was in the West, 80 per cent of breast cancers were suffered by people over the age of 50. Here it’s at least 10 years younger,’ she explains. ‘But I also realised that it affects young women of all nationalities here. And when you look at other countries like Egypt and Iran, that have a more normal demography, they see a similar pattern of breast cancer in younger women too.’
Could a potential factor be lifestyle? It has been suggested that people get less exercise here than in their home countries, eat poorer diets and suffer higher levels of stress. ‘One of the things I see when a country develops is that their diets include much more saturated fat,’ explains Dr Houriya. ‘You’re supposed to cut out fast food and include more wholegrain foods in your diet.’
There are other lifestyle rules that researchers recommend women adopt to lower the chances of suffering the disease that many may not have heard of. These include breast-feeding, avoiding taking hormones, and having children at a relatively young age. ‘But if you do these things it doesn’t mean you’re not going to get breast cancer,’ Dr Houriya warns. ‘Because I do get people who say to me, “I breast-fed my kids,
so I don’t have to worry about it,” which is, unfortunately, not the case.’ The bottom line is that education and raising awareness cannot be stressed enough.
For breast cancer support in Doha, contact Think Pink Qatar (4447 8128; www.thinkpinkqatar.com), a non-profit organisation raising awareness of the disease. The Qatar National Cancer Society (4447 8128; www.qncs.org.qa) is also fighting the battle – visit the website for info on all forms of cancer, with info on volunteering or making a donation.
• A lump or thickening in an area of the breast – although nine out of 10 lumps are benign, you should check for them once a month. For women, particularly over 35, this means before your period.
• A change in the size or shape of a breast.
• Dimpling of the skin.
• A change in the shape of your nipple, particularly if it turns in, sinks into the breast, or becomes irregular in shape.
• A blood-stained discharge from the nipple.
• A rash on a nipple or the surrounding area.
• A swelling or lump in your armpit.
• In more rare strands of the disease you may suffer redness, inflammation, soreness, hardness and enlarged pores.