According to the Qatar National Cancer Society, cancer is the third main cause of death in Qatar and behind approximately 12 percent of total deaths in the country as of early 2012. How does this compare to global statistics?
Cancer in Qatar is unfortunately on the rise for a number of reasons:
1. The growth in population: we used to be half a million, now we are more than 2 million, meaning more cases are diagnosed.
2. The increase in life expectancy: the risk of getting cancer gets higher with age. The average male life expectancy has risen from 55 to 68 and 69, and the average female life expectancy has reached 75.
3. Diet is a major risk factor, and the amount of imported processed food containing carcinogens has increased.
4. Pollution, which has increased with the surge in the number of cars on the street and their carbon emissions, as well as the pollution resulting from industrial factories and construction.
5. Finally, neglecting exercise is a fundamental factor. A sedentary lifestyle has a substantial effect on the risk of getting cancer and I always stress this point.
Most of the cancer cases that we have are diagnosed here in Qatar. We are proud that we have a single center for diagnosis and record keeping, which provides utmost accuracy in our data compared to other neighboring countries.
The ratio of Qatari nationals who are diagnosed with cancer every year is between 42 and 45 percent of the total cases diagnosed.
It is worth mentioning that Qatar sponsors the treatment of Qataris, who mostly receive it abroad, while the Cancer Society sponsors the treatment of non-Qataris at the National Center for Cancer Care and Research.
Regarding breast cancer in particular, we diagnose 2 to 3 cases every week, and I expect the total number of breast cancer cases this year to exceed 180 compared to 30 or 40 annual cases some time ago.
And what is the percentage of Qatari women who are diagnosed with breast cancer?
It is the same general percentage, which is between 42 and 45 percent. The Gulf Region, including Qatar, also experiences a higher than average number of diagnosed cases of breast cancer amongst younger women in their thirties and forties.
And what is the reason behind young cases?
Many people say it’s because of genetic factors, but the truth is genetic factors are very minor and are accountable for only 5 percent of the causes. Unfortunately, we don’t have an extensive study to determine the real reason behind the young cases of breast cancer in the region, and I think that we should study the matter carefully.
If we look at the Arabic peninsula, we will find that the cases vary from one area to another. There are differences between the coast and inland and from north to south. That’s why we need official cooperation from all Gulf countries to collect and understand the data.
When more than half of our annual cancer cases are non-Qataris, who often return to their home country, we lose track of their progress and data, which hinders future studies trying to understand the epidemiology.. We need to move quickly and collect and analyze data across all the countries in the region to really reach solid answers.
Is there an increase in the number of diagnosed cases?
If we consider the West 20 years ago, they used to have 450 diagnosed cancer cases per 100,000 annually. After years of awareness and educational programs they succeeded in getting this number down to 200 per 100,000 and in some countries it reached 150, which is considered a huge success in the field of cancer awareness.
In our region, we used to have 90 to 95 annual cases per 100,000 on average, and we reached today 160 to 180. The conclusion is clear and worrying.
So did the awareness and educational programs have any success?
Yes they did bring results, however I am not fully satisfied with them and I believe that there is room for improvement. We faced many difficulties such as the large increase in population and such challenges make our work seem to be an everlasting fight.
I would like to commend the team at the Cancer Society and their enthusiasm to serve the cause because it always leads us to innovating and increasing our activities.
Finally, I would like to thank Health&Life magazine for giving their attention to this cause.