Breast Cancer in the UAE Strikes Girls as Young as 17


Breast cancer in the UAE strikes girls as young as 17

ABU DHABI - Jul 09: Women are being diagnosed with breast cancer in their teens and 20s, in one case as young as 17, highlighting a need for greater awareness of the disease at an early age, say health professionals.

A leading expert has revealed that there are more cases of breast cancer among younger women in the UAE than in other parts of the world. Along with the 17-year-old, a woman of 19 was diagnosed with a disease more commonly associated with women in their 50s.

Late diagnosis often leaves women with little chance of a cure and doctors are calling for campaigns to alert schoolgirls and young women to the danger.

Women, afraid of the stigma still attached to breast cancer in Gulf states, often ignore warning signs and are reluctant to examine themselves. Younger women remain largely ignorant of the need to be aware of the disease from an early age. Dr Rawda al Mutawa, who was involved in the recent Break The Silence campaign, part of the Global Initiative for Breast Cancer Awareness, said: “Throughout the campaign and during the checks we performed on the younger women, many younger people were diagnosed with cancer who had no idea at all, including a 17-year-old.”

Dr Mutawa, the president of the Emirate’s Business Women Council and chief executive of the council’s Abu Dhabi branch, said lack of information was a problem.

“The problem with young people is that they consider this to be an illness that afflicts older women only,” she said, “so they do not heed the advice and warnings.

“During the campaign, we went to secondary schools. Each day, we had 10 or 15 girls going to the hospitals to get mammograms, so they learnt about the importance of these self-examinations.”

Between 2003 and 2006, almost as many women were diagnosed with breast cancer as with all the other types of cancer combined, according to the National Cancer Registry. The disease accounts for 22.8 per cent of the total number of diagnosed cases of cancer in the UAE, making it the country’s most common cancer.

The young age at which women are developing breast cancer is of increasing concern to doctors.

“The breast cancer in the UAE is very special,” said one expert, who has been involved in screening women for more than 10 years. “We have a lot of younger cases and most of them are caught only at a late stage.”

The average age at which breast cancer was diagnosed among Emiratis was between 40 and 45, she said, which was 10 years younger than in Europe. “Of course we get even younger cases, in their 20s and 30s, and we have had patients as young as 17 and 19.”

The national screening centre for women and children was officially opened in the capital a week ago. Its major tasks include educating people about the importance of self-examination at an early age, and overcoming taboos.

Encouraging women to self-examine, especially younger women, was not an easy task, said Dr Mutawa, but it was a vital one: “In the campaign, we focused specifically on girls who had a family history of breast cancer.

“Many people do not realise the hereditary element of the illness and we needed to make them realise the situation.”

It is estimated that only 30 per cent of women with breast cancer in the country are diagnosed in the early stages of the disease, when the chances of a cure are higher.

Dr Miriam al Otaiba, a senior doctor at the Makkah Specialised Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi, said the subject of breast cancer and self-examination was not always raised by doctors, as patients did not always welcome advice on the disease.

“Traditionally speaking, it would be odd for me to just ask the patient to examine her breasts without any complaint or request,” she said. “The patient would not think it was normal.

“However, we do advise and strongly encourage all patients to take certain precautions.”

I understand suffering because I have suffered’

ABU DHABI - July 09:As a nurse, Sherin Abu Sliman was more aware than most of the dangers of breast cancer, yet admits she never examined herself or asked a doctor to examine her.

“I knew about breast cancer, of course, but I just never connected it with myself,” she says.

She was just 23 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Once I felt the lump, I knew it was cancer,” she says. “A chill, like I had stepped from a cold bath into an air-conditioned room, came over me. A big fear.”

She found the lump while at home, trying on a new bra. It was already large, bigger than a grape, when she noticed it.

“It was like a rock was in my chest,” she says. “It had edges. It was hard and had an irregular shape. I felt that it was an abnormal thing.”

Three days later, Miss Sliman was beginning her treatment. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation before having part of her breast removed. “I have the nipple and a quarter – that is what I have been left with,” she says.

“I had augmentation two or three years back, but it is not the same. It is good, but it is still different.”

The treatment changed her appearance. She lost all of her hair, including her eyebrows. “Nothing was like before — nothing at all,” she says. “My hair was very long and now there is nothing and I thought ‘I have to start with what I can change’.”

So she decided to start exercising. “I joined the gym — I put all my sadness into it and I worked hard. I didn’t want to think.”

The exercising was a success – she lost 30kg.

Breast cancer can be especially hard for young women who have to go through drastic physical changes at a time when society expects them to be at their most attractive.

“I was not scared about death, I was scared of my looks,” Miss Sliman says. “Whatever I thought about death, it would not stick in my mind. I was more worried for my shape than my life.”

The changes took their toll on her personal life. “I was engaged,” she says. “I fell in love with somebody during that period of time and it was too difficult. In one way, I think maybe he left me for this – I don’t know.”

However, Miss Sliman has been inundated with other offers of marriage and is engaged again. “I discovered at that time how many people loved me,” she says. “It’s not always about your shape, people love you for you and that does not change.”

Despite her hardships, or perhaps because of them, she says she would not change the past. “I thank God that I have this,” she says. “Really. It made me stronger. I know everything about myself and I know more about people. I feel more. I understand suffering because I have suffered.”

Unsurprisingly, she thinks all women should examine their breasts regularly.

“Women have to check,” she says. “There is no need to be afraid to go to the doctor, or to examine yourself, or to be shy. When you discover a little thing you have to inform your doctor. It is better than losing your life.”

Dubai takes action on ‘indecent’ sunbathing

DUBAI - Jul 09: Public beaches in Dubai will soon have large signs warning women against topless bathing and indecent exposure contrary to the cultural values of the UAE.

Dubai Municipality said yesterday the decision followed repeated complaints from residents about nudity, mostly among tourists. Residents had complained that a growing number of women were sunbathing and swimming topless, municipality officials said.

The signs would be put up at Jumeirah open beach, Jumeirah Beach Park and Al Mamzar park within three months, officials said yesterday.

“The signposts will be in Arabic and English and will be prominently placed at the beaches,” said Mohammed al Louz, head of unit for Deira Parks Section at Dubai Municipality, who looks after beach regulations.

The boards would clearly warn beachgoers against any indecent exposure, he said: “We are presently checking the samples of the signboards and soon a decision will be taken.”

Changing clothes in public and lying on the beach insufficiently covered would also be prohibited, he said. “The tourists often change clothes in public and even take off all their clothes before lying on the beach. They are obviously not aware of the regulations and the cultural sensitivities of the country, which is why we plan to put signboards informing them that such behaviour should be avoided,” said Mr Louz.

However, he said no fines would be imposed on visitors. “Our lifeguards will speak to them and if that fails, then the beach supervisor will explain the rules. If they still do not listen then we may ask them to leave the beach,” he said.

The signboards would also prohibit pets on the beaches. “This is another area where we have received several complaints. A lot of people still take their pets to the beach though it is not allowed. The new signboards will clearly mention that pets are not allowed on these beaches,” said Mr Louz.

He said the municipality had increased inspections by plainclothes inspectors to deter men who stared at women on the beaches and even took photographs of them.

A lifeguard who did not wish to be named said it was often difficult to convince tourists to cover up. “At the Open Beach we often get many such cases of obscenity and we urge them to cover up. Many of them ignore our request and are even rude at times. A signboard will certainly make the rules clear to the visitors,” he said.

There was a mixed response to the announcement from beachgoers.

“This is a personal choice and there is no harm if you have a good sunbathe discreetly,” said Lucy Mueller. “Of course, if you are attracting a lot of attention from troublemakers then you should stop. However, such a signboard can make it difficult for women to have a good time.”

Nizrin Rashed, a resident of Jumeirah, welcomed the proposal. “It’s difficult to send my children to the beach because of the kind of things they see there,” she said. “Besides, such exposure is attracting a lot of bachelors and single men, which is spoiling the family atmosphere.”

Capital plans network of exercise paths

ABU DHABI - Jul 09:A network of rubber tracks on which people could walk, run or cycle might be created in the capital if there was sufficient demand, a senior municipal official said as the first such path was opened yesterday.

Abdulla al Shamsi, the director of roads and infrastructure for Abu Dhabi Municipality, said the tracks would give people the option of exercising on a comfortable surface and away from traffic.

“This is to enhance the image of the city,” Mr Shamsi said as he stood on the clay-coloured path. “Most importantly, it is to attract people to exercise.”

The two-kilometre-long trial path runs parallel to 32nd Street, in the direction of the Corniche, from the intersection of 19th and 13th streets. It is interrupted only by traffic signals and some construction work near 17th Street.

Eventually, said Mr Shamsi, it would extend to the Corniche.

A feasibility study would be carried out to identify where other paths could be built, he said, adding that it was possible there would be paths throughout the city.

Two other locations for pilot projects have already been earmarked – one near Al Saada bridge and another close to the Intercontinental Hotel. Mr Shamsi did not say what the paths would cost or when they would be completed.

At present, apart from the Corniche, where the concrete pavement is divided into lanes for walking and cycling, few places in the capital are dedicated to jogging or cycling.

Obesity and its related health problems are on the rise in the UAE as a result of inactive lifestyles. At the same time, rapid development is taking over public spaces, including car parks and wasteland where young people have traditionally played sports. Twenty per cent of the population in the UAE has diabetes, the second highest rate in the world. According to World Health Organisation figures for 2005, 69.6 per cent of women over the age of 15 were overweight or obese, as were 66.9 per cent of males.

Medical experts say they are treating young adults in their mid-20s for heart disease caused by lack of exercise and poor diet.

The unveiling of the jogging track was praised by doctors, who said it was an important step towards encouraging healthy living.

“A healthy lifestyle is the smartest and simplest way to treat and even prevent diabetes,” said Dr Maha Barakat, from the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi. “This initiative by Abu Dhabi Municipality is a very encouraging step for the people of the UAE and could set a leading example to governments across the Middle East.”

It was important that people in Abu Dhabi exercise more, said Dr Mudhar Hamadi, of Al Noor Hospital: “We do not exercise – all of us.

“These measures should be implemented as soon as possible.”

Mr Shamsi acknowledged that residents might give the new paths a cool reception during the hot summer months, but said he expected a strong response during the winter.

In 32nd Street, he said, people had already been seen walking on the rubber path, which is easier on joints than the island’s pavements. Gym equipment, such as chin-up bars, would also be installed near the path in 32nd Street, and, once the municipality had assessed how well the path was being received, improvements such as distance markers or dedicated lanes for walking and running could be added.

Residents gave a mixed response to the initiative yesterday, but praised the Government for trying to encourage physical activity. Evin Sabbah, 23, who regularly ran in her home country of Lebanon, where there were open areas for jogging, said she felt uncomfortable jogging in Abu Dhabi because of the crowded streets.

She was unsure how people would react. “Having this project is such a great idea, but usually people are busy at work and only go back home to eat and sleep.” On the other hand, maybe it would “encourage people to go out and exercise during the weekend”.

Zainab Mohammed, 24, from Oman, said she would use the track to walk, but not to run because it would be inappropriate to jog in her abaya in public.

Mariam Salem, a 28-year-old Emirati housewife, said she would not use it because of her “culture and tradition”.

“But I’m sure that many people will,” she said.


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Title: Breast Cancer in the UAE Strikes Girls as Young as 17

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