While cancer is a global health problem, research shows that around 57% of cancer cases and 65% of cancer deaths worldwide occur in developing countries. Researchers are still trying to establish why the prevalence of cancer in low and middle income countries is increasing. An aging population is one factor to consider. And while it’s good news that better medical access means that people are living longer, it also means that people are living long enough to develop cancer.
Unfortunately, many of the cancers that are particularly common in the developing world are those which could successfully be treated if the disease were detected early enough. Sadly, lack of resources and medical infrastructure means that these countries simply don’t have the ability to carry out vigorous screening campaigns and early diagnostics. For example, cervical cancer, which is easily prevented using vaccines and regular screening, is one of the most common cancers among women in West Africa. Cervical cancer is also the second most common cancer in women in the UAE.
Breast cancer screening programmes are currently the only screening available in most Arab countries, yet despite this, turnout to these free screening appointments is very low. This is believed to be the result of social and psychological barriers to breast cancer screening. Clearly, there is work to be done to make screening services more accessible on every level.
What can be done to tackle growing cancer cases in the Middle East and other developing countries? Do new cancer technologies hold the key?
The growing importance of technology in both early cancer diagnosis and treatment is becoming increasingly clear. And we also know that early detection and prompt treatment is the best way to secure positive outcomes from the disease. With this in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that cancer experts are pushing for urgent action to tackle the growing number of people being diagnosed with cancer in the Middle East and other developing nations.
A whitepaper titled ‘Rising cancer rates in the Arab World: now is the time for action’ published by notable UAE professionals¹ has identified that they should be targeting primary and secondary prevention, and that ‘this could be approached through the adoption of national screening programs for the most prevalent cancers found in Arab countries’.
Grassroots mobilization of cancer screening technologies is one way in which MENA countries can hope to start identifying cancers sooner and limiting their impact on the population. However, this will undoubtedly take time to yield results and so further strategies and opportunities need to be explored.
This requires healthcare decision makers to think outside the box if they hope to turn the tide on the disease. There are plenty of existing cancer technologies available which could prove extremely effective in lowering cancer cases and mortality in developing nations. It simply needs healthcare decision makers in developing countries to take the plunge and look at adopting these technologies, either through undertaking medical trials with them or fast-tracking their availability based on the clinical data already established in their countries of origin.
At RMDM, we are always willing to showcase our early cancer detection technology – PanTum Detect – a blood draw which has been proven to be extremely effective in detecting cancer at the earliest stages, when treatment is most likely to be effective. PanTum Detect can identify tumours anywhere in the body with a sensitivity of 97.5% and can rule out healthy individuals with 99.05% specificity and is the first test of this kind to achieve this outstanding level of accuracy for multiple cancers.
PanTum Detect is minimally invasive, cost effective and scalable at primary and secondary care levels. It represents just one technology that could benefit MENA countries struggling under the weight of increasing cancer cases and deaths. We would urge healthcare decision makers in the MENA region and beyond to consider how our technology, among others, could transform cancer care for their population.
¹ Mostafa Ahmed Arafa – Cancer Research Chair, College of Medicine, King Saud University
Danny Munther Rabah – Surgery Department, College of Medicine, King Saud University
Karim Hamda Farhat – High Institute of Public Health, Alexandria University, Egypt