Cancer care in the Middle East

A detailed new book on cancer in the Middle East highlights the need for prevention and more local treatment facilities.  The project aims at improving access to cancer data from the Arab world.

The book, “Cancer In The Arab World” is published by Springer and took a team of 30 specialists five years to complete.

It includes a chapter dedicated to each of the 22 Arab nations and examines challenges to palliative care.   Each chapter provides vital information on cancer statistics and risk factors, available clinical care pathways and infrastructure.  The book also highlights cancer prevention programmes in each country, as well as specific challenges and insights into how to achieve optimal care.

The book was the idea of Dr Humaid Al Shamsi, director of oncology at Burjeel Medical City in Abu Dhabi and president of the Emirates Oncology Society, who invited colleagues and peers from across the Middle East to contribute.

Cancer remains a leading cause of death worldwide, while the Middle East has one of the fastest-growing global rates of the disease.

The book is an open source of information for policymakers, clinicians, patients and their families to address the shortfall in data and research specific to the Arab world.

Dr Al Shamsi said “We are dealing with a considerably different cancer patient population in this region. This is in terms of age of onset, stage at presentation, awareness and acceptance of disease and treatment, and most importantly, eagerness to seek treatment abroad rather than from within the country.”

While progress has recently been made in exploring genetic variations in the Arab population in some cancers, a major gap remains in data on epidemiology and clinical outcomes. Cancer In The Arab World is aimed at addressing that shortfall in each country.

The book recognises palliative care is an established practise in oncology worldwide, but in Arab counties more work is required.

The incidence of cancer in the UAE is expected to double in the next two decades, according to the Union for International Cancer Control.

Topics relevant to the Arab world are also discussed, including medical tourism for cancer treatment and cancer care during war and conflict. Many people are paying for their own care as the facilities are not available at home.

While incidence rates in most Arab countries are lower than the West, few in the region have national screening programmes that could help with early detection and better outcomes.

In many countries, patients are seeking medical help only during advanced stages. The book outlines many reasons for this, from lack of knowledge to embarrassment, misconceptions and cultural norms.