A new survey has revealed that 41 per cent of women in the UAE have never done a routine mammogram screening for breast cancer detection, with half of the respondents also expressing reluctance to undergoing the screening.

The study conducted by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC) commissioned the survey as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to tackle key misconceptions around breast cancer awareness, which impact their decision to undergo breast cancer routine screenings.

The survey, conducted with over 300 women in the UAE aged 40 and above, also revealed that nearly 8 out of 10 women have had breast cancer or know someone who has had breast cancer.

Throughout the month of October, SSMC is hosting a breast cancer awareness campaign “Your Health Deserves”, which features the launch of the SSMC Breast Cancer Support Group, including regular support sessions aimed at providing patients and their families a safe space to express their feelings and share their unique experiences during their treatment journey.

Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women in Abu Dhabi, accounting for almost half of cancers diagnosed. Half of breast cancer cases develop in women who have no identifiable breast cancer risk factor other than their age (typically over 40 years) – however, if detected early, it is estimated that 98 per cent of women survive.

The reasons mentioned by respondents for not getting a mammogram state being healthy (31 per cent), fear of results (26 per cent), and not having any family member who’s had breast cancer (25 per cent). Other reasons stated include being embarrassed (9 per cent) or fear of being judged (8 per cent).

To tackle public misconceptions and help address this awareness gap, throughout the month of October, SSMC has actively driven awareness about breast cancer symptoms and risk factors with the aim of increasing regular screening in women over the age of 40 for earlier detection and treatment as part of the “Your Health Deserves” campaign. Later this month, from October 24 to October 30, SSMC will also be inviting the public to visit dedicated booths at Yas Mall Townsquare to speak with SSMC’s expert physicians and nurses and take part in a week’s worth of breast cancer awareness activities and giveaways.

The campaign also saw the launch of the SSMC Breast Cancer Support Group. During the first session, which took place at SSMC on Oct. 23, attendees were welcomed by SSMC’s multidisciplinary team expert.

Dr. Aisha Alsalami, medical oncology consultant, opened the event with insightful advice to help patients and their families navigate the daily emotional and psychological hurdles that many experience after diagnosis. Patients were also able to hear from Sara, a 45-year-old Sudanese mother, who shared her inspiring story of hope as a breast cancer survivor. Activities also included acrylic paint pouring to promote healing through art. To conclude, attendees entered a raffle draw with the winner receiving a Dh500 voucher to a relaxing spa treatment of choice.

“We are delighted about the success of our first session kicking off SSMC’s support group. It was so heartwarming to see so many women and their families come together and hear from them,” said Dr. Alsalami. “Through these sessions, we want to drive that message of hope and strength to more and more women fighting breast cancer here in the UAE, and make sure that they not only feel supported but also better informed about their condition.”

Speaking on the experience, Sara said: “I know exactly how it feels to hear that diagnosis. It can be really tough, so much so that I did not even tell my family and friends at the beginning. That’s how scared I was. But being able to sit down with them and explain what I was feeling was so reassuring for not only me, but for them as well. That is why support groups like this are so important, so that we can spread the message to women that they are not alone on their journey.”

According to SSMC’s survey, one in five women think that breast cancer cannot be prevented, while 10 per cent believe that once one has breast cancer, it cannot be treated. Half of surveyed women also think that wearing a tight undergarment presents a risk factor for developing breast cancer. The findings highlight the need for continued awareness and education.

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