During Breast Cancer Awareness Month taking place throughout October, medical experts at National Reference Laboratory and Healthpoint — both part of Mubadala’s network of world-class healthcare providers — are highlighting the importance of early detection to increase the survival rate of this disease. Early detection when the disease is in its initial stages (0-II) and has not yet spread to other parts of the body requires less aggressive treatment, and can result in a survival rate of between 93 to 100 percent. However if left undetected and allowed to progress untreated, the survival rate of this disease drops significantly to 22 percent.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 565 women in the UAE are diagnosed with breast cancer per year. This is in spite of the cancer screening guidelines of the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention recommending that all women between 40-69 years of age — and those who have a greater risk due to their family history or patient medical records — undergo a mammogram screening examination every two years.
“Breast cancer is the number one cancer affecting women worldwide and the UAE is no exception. Regrettably many women in the UAE are waiting until they experience symptoms before consulting with their doctor, although in many cases symptoms of breast cancer will not appear until the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage. In addition, many women are unaware of their family’s medical history, thereby reducing their knowledge of their susceptibility to the disease. Later stage diagnosis decreases the prognosis for long-term survival and makes it more difficult to treat the disease without resorting to aggressive treatment plans,” says Dr. Suhaila Alameeri, Consultant Anatomic Pathologist at National Reference Laboratory and member of the National Taskforce for Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program.
A mammogram is an imaging test used as the first line clinical screening for breast cancer. If this screening detects potential abnormalities, several other imaging and/or laboratory diagnostic testing can be carried out to confirm or exclude a breast cancer diagnosis.
“We strongly encourage all women in the UAE to take charge of their health by perfoming regular self-examinations and undergoing the appropriate screening tests according to their age and risk factors. It is important for all women to know that a lump in the breast or underarm is usually visible on a mammogram long before it can be seen or felt,” continues Dr. Mai Ahmed Sultan Al Jaber, Medical Director at Healthpoint.
In addition, genetic testing can be used to help determine a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. BReast CAncer susceptibility gene 1 (BRCA1) and BReast CAncer susceptibility gene 2 (BRCA2) testing can determine if harmful mutations are present which increase the risk for the carrier to develop the disease. For women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation, their risk of developing breast cancer by the age of 80 can increase from 12 to 72 percent, and for those who inherit a BRCA2 mutation, it can increase to 69 percent. As a result, it is recommended for women with a family history of breast cancer to undergo this testing to better understand their risk and to help put in place preventative measures.
“Early detection in women with germline mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes allows for planning strategies of prevention and early intervention for enhanced patient management. Based on genomic risk, intensive surveillance programs can be implemented, including increased frequency of mammograms,” continues Dr. Al Jaber.