Saudi Arabia: Greater Awareness of Breast Cancer Early Warning Signs


Arab News posted an excellent article about breast cancer.  While the primary intent of the article was to showcase a recent Saudi-Australian symposium held at King Saud University, I’m pleased that the article concludes with warning signs of breast cancer.

The article advises women to get annual mammograms at age 40 onwards.  This is an area where I disagree.  As a breast cancer patient myself and one who is very active in breast cancer advocacy and education, I can attest that I have seen hundreds of women who are in their 20’s and battling breast cancer.  Breast cancer does not discriminate by age, color or religion.

A significant mitigating factor which should prompt a young woman to get a mammogram before the age of 40 is if there is a family history of breast cancer.  For example in my own family, my maternal grandmother, several maternal aunts and several cousins had breast cancer.  They all died young and as a result of their cancer.  I began having mammograms in my early 20’s.

Self exams are also important and a pro-active measure a woman can do for herself.  It is recommended to perform the self exam monthly and at the same time each month.  I found a lump in my breast while performing a self exam which prompted me to get an early mammogram.  Ironically the lump I found was not cancerous but the mammogram revealed other areas deeper within the breast which did contain cancer cells.

One area where Saudi Arabia is still lagging behind though is the post diagnosis care.  In the United States, most hospitals now have a cancer coordinator who will be there for the patient and family members from diagnosis to treatment and beyond.

Saudi Arabia is also behind with support groups and programs for breast cancer patients.  Many Saudis still view any kind of cancer diagnosis as a private and personal issue.  As a result, they are very reticent to acknowledge or talk about their cancer.  Yet support groups are known to help the mental well being of both the patient and family members.  They realize they are not alone and their feelings and roller coaster of emotions are perfectly normal.  In support groups the various types of treatments are also discussed.

Much of a cancer patient’s battle is about attitude and outlook.  A fighter perspective is going to make further gains against the disease than one with a defeatist attitude.  It’s important for a cancer patient to follow a healthy diet and to exercise!!!  In the United States cancer patients can contact the Livestrong organization for programs in which they can participate free of charge!  These programs focus on the health, mind and body of the patient.

Saudi Arabia has made positive inroads towards awareness and education of breast cancer.  It is going to depend on the team of cancer care professionals, the patients and family members to help change and broaden the minds in Saudi culture so that further inroads can be made towards additional benefits for cancer patients.

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