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The big conversation – why Middle East businesses need to talk about Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October 19, 2017

Breast cancer is one of the biggest killers of women in the Middle East.

That’s according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and while it can be a difficult subject to broach, ignoring it leads to fatal consequences. Breast cancer doesn’t only affect the person who is diagnosed with it, but also their family, co-workers, business, and the country in which they live.

What’s more, when this disease is not dealt with early on, the chances of survival fall significantly. So raising awareness of the issue and ensuring that your staff members have proper access to screening facilities is essential. Doing so will help ensure you are putting the well-being of your staff at the top of your priorities.

It’s October and that means Breast Cancer Awareness month – so there’s no better time to start that conversation.

Breast cancer in the Middle East

The 2017 International Journal of Women’s Health and Wellness looked at both the USA and the Middle East and noted that breast cancer was the most frequent cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide.

The 2017 International Journal of Women’s Health and Wellness looked at both the USA and the Middle East and noted that breast cancer was the most frequent cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide.

Despite this, many women in the Middle East tend to ignore the symptoms of the issue. That is why there are high rates in this region of ‘late presentation’ – the discovery of breast cancer at an advanced stage.

Helping your staff access screening services

As an employer, maintaining the overall health of your staff should be a top priority. Mammograms and breast exams may be included within the healthcare package you offer your employees, and some providers may also be offering a discounted service in this area as part of their Breast Cancer Awareness month promotion. As an employer, you might also wish to subsidise services such as these in a bid to raise awareness.

But in addition, and as a long-term commitment, it’s worth considering the creation of a dedicated corporate wellness programme and include some breast screening benefits within it. Schemes and initiatives which boost health for workers can see up to a 300% return on investment for business owners, according to research from the Middle East Economic Digest. 

The conversation – raising awareness in the workplace

So Breast Cancer Awareness Month provides the ideal starting place for a conversation with your employees. It’s all about getting the vital message out there so that your team members are armed with all they need to fight breast cancer.

Here are some of the key areas that you may wish to include.

Healthy living: According to the WHO, there are some preventative measures people can take when it comes to breast cancer and other forms of cancer. These include creating an action plan to reduce weight, becoming more physically active, and reduce the harmful effects of alcohol.

Survival rates: Breast cancer survival rates vary worldwide and can be anything between 40% and 80%, generally depending on the level of development of the specific country. The primary way in which we can increase these rates is by ensuring people get fast treatment and catch the signs quickly.

The importance of early screenings: Early screenings aren’t just a precaution; they’re essential. There’s a body of evidence to suggest that breast cancer hits women around ten years earlier here in the Middle East than it does in western countries.

Case in point, the average age of women at diagnosis is 48 in this region, according to research from the International Journal of Surgery. The study also stated that we should not take on western breast cancer guidelines ‘without critical amendment’.

The more we educate ourselves about this issue, the better we may safeguard those it affects. Thankfully, the mortality rate of women suffering from breast cancer in the UAE (to take one example) has been in steady decline between the early 2000s and 2014, according to the WHO. As we raise awareness, the hope is that this trend continues and yet more lives are saved.

Act fast: Since women in the Middle East don’t always seek the medical help they need immediately, this is an area which needs attention. The more advanced the cancerous cells are, the harder they are to fight. It’s crucial that we educate women on the warning signs and how/where they can get advice.

Self-examinations: Women should be in the habit of checking their own breasts on a regular basis so that they notice a difference as soon as possible. Providing your workers with literature that helps to explain this process may educate the women on the issue.

Women should be in the habit of checking their own breasts on a regular basis so that they notice a difference as soon as possible.

Common symptoms: It may also be worth educating your staff on what the common symptoms of the condition are so that they may spot them as early as they can.

Understanding types of screening: Mammography is perhaps the most common method of screening and involves an X-ray of the breast area, checking for any potential abnormalities. Physicians or other medical professionals may also offer a clinical breast exam (CBE), which allows them to check for any lumps or abnormal textures in the area. Those in a high-risk category may undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

Dealing with lack of uptake: While the above-mentioned screening services are readily available to women in the region, the uptake figures are surprisingly low. A 2013 cross-sectional survey by the Breast Cancer Awareness Measure (CAM), found that 44.8% of women in the UAE who had never undergone a CBE expressed lack of knowledge that such screening techniques even existed. Without this core knowledge, the fact of the matter is that women are not getting the medical attention they need. 

Understanding risk: The short answer here is that all women need to have regular screenings for breast cancer. However, there’s some confusion regarding when these should start and how frequent they should be. While the American Cancer Society suggests that women between the ages of 45 and 54 should get annual screenings, perhaps a more rigorous approach would work here in our region. In short, women in the Middle East should consider earlier screenings.

It’s worth understanding that some women are at higher risk of contracting this disease. Those with a family history of cancer or a genetic disposition to these types of diseases must be extra vigilant when it comes to tests, follow-ups, and advice. Raising awareness to these individuals within your own ranks is a step towards prevention.

Since breast cancer can strike at any age, though, every individual must be methodical in their approach. Women who note an abnormality through breast self-examination should immediately consult a medical expert about their condition. 

Life after cancer: Long gone are the days when breast cancer was a certain death sentence, especially if it’s caught early on. It could be worth inviting a breast cancer survivor to your workplace to talk to your staff and inspire them with her story. The core message here being that there is life after cancer. 

Long gone are the days when breast cancer was a certain death sentence, especially if it’s caught early on.

Let’s start talking about breast cancer

This month, break the silence and begin talking about breast cancer in terms of how to prevent, and ultimately cure it. Of course, this process is not one that happens overnight. Instead, it’s an ongoing effort which will take time and resources to complete.

Looking after the health and well-being of your female staff members not only helps your bottom line, but it also helps your workers and the business as a whole. After all, healthy employees make for a healthy company. It’s that simple. It’s time to start this life-saving conversation today.

About the author: Nausheen Popat, Founder & Chief Operating Officer

Nausheen Popat cofounded Lifecare 20 years ago with Alniz Popat, and is today responsible for managing and coordinating the operational running of the business across Dubai, Kenya and Qatar. Nausheen focuses on delivering Lifecare’s operational excellence strategic initiatives. She has been integral in developing relationships with customers and major service providers in the market in order to promote strategic partnerships that serve our clients and promote the growth of the business. Nausheen is a graduate of the University of Northridge, California and holds a bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management.