The pink issue

Dr Houriya Kazim, a leading Emirati breast cancer specialist, explains why it is important to go about raising awareness of the disease in an appropriate manner

By Vijaya Sukumar (Contributor)

Published: Thu 15 Nov 2007, 11:14 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:34 AM

TOMORROW, DUBAI will witness the UAE leg of the ‘Avon Walk around the World for Breast Cancer Awareness’ at Zabeel Park.

The walkathon is jointly organised by Avon UAE and Al Hathboor in association with Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) a member of Tatweer and Dubai Municipality.

The event, a part of Avon Foundation’s global initiative has already raised US$ 10.2 million in the US. Hundreds of Avon volunteers and breast cancer survivors will be participating in this fund-raising event with the sole aim of spreading awareness about this disease.

The walkathon will also mark its entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Dubai Health Care City will attempt the Largest Awareness Ribbon made of Flowers. The proceeds of the UAE walkathon will be donated to Dr Houriya Kazim’s Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Avon Al Hathboor Breast Cancer Funds.

Dr. Houriya Kazim is a leading breast cancer specialist and the first Emirati lady surgeon. In an interview with City Times, she sheds light on this malignant disease.

What are the risk factors for Breast cancer (BC)?

Being a woman is a risk factor, it rarely occurs in men. The risk increases with age, the older you are the more likely you are to get breast cancer. It has been found that America and Western European countries have most cases of Breast cancer. The more a country develops the more BC we see. Nobody knows for certain if it is affected by lifestyle, food, diet, environment or lifestyle.

How true is the statement that 1 out of 8 women will get BC?

It is 1 in 8, should you live to be 70 years old. At the age of 20 your risk is probably 1 in 2500. Ss you get older the risk is higher.

What are the symptoms of BC?

For most people it is a lump, only 10 per cent have pain and some have nipple discharge. With mammographic screening we try to detect the cancer even before the patient feels the lump. If there is no family history of BC, women should start having mammograms at the age of 40 and should go to a gynaecologist for a checkup every year besides doing self-examination regularly. If BC is picked up early it can be easily treated without resorting to surgery and chances of it being cured are very good.

How can women reduce the risk of BC?

Women should have kids at a young age, breastfeed them, avoid hormones and should incorporate moderate exercises like walking in their daily life. Young girls should be encouraged to participate actively in sports.

What is the incidence of BC here in the UAE?

Women here get BC at a much younger age as compared to the West, despite doing all the right preventive things like having children early and breastfeeding them.

We don’t have exact figures as there is no cancer register here in the UAE. Many expats go elsewhere for treatment after being diagnosed here, such people may not be registered. What we need is a National Cancer Register, a book where every cancer case that is diagnosed in the country is documented and followed up.

How differently is breast cancer treated today as compared to 10 years ago?

It has changed a lot. We are getting better at targeting the cancer though we still give chemotherapy.

Basically chemotherapy is a combination of drugs that are given intravenously to kill any cells that are dividing quickly. This is why patients undergoing chemotherapy lose hair as the cells in our scalp that produce hair are constantly dividing and they get killed in addition to the cancer cells. The attempt now is to localise treatment on individual cancer cells without harming other cells.

What prompted you to set up a Research Foundation here?

It started informally in 2001 with patients handing over some money asking me to do something for breast cancer. There were no awareness programmes when I first came back 9 years ago, so I thought of doing awareness talks and I wrote a lot of articles in magazines and newspapers. We want to publish educational materials in different languages for free distribution and set up a tumor register.

Local research will look into things like genetics and BC. Whether we are different biologically than Americans or Western Europeans or do our bodies respond to things in different ways? This then would let us know if the way we screen for cancer and do mammograms is relevant or not.

In the West we start mammogram screening at the age of 40 but if we are getting BC at the age of 40 then we need to start early.

Lately the ‘Pink Ribbon’ movement has been criticised as being more of a marketing gimmick.

There are some companies whose motives do not seem to be completely altruistic. For them it’s all about making money.

However there are many companies like Avon and Estee Lauder that are very quiet about their support and very genuine about it. They put money to use in a meaningful way.

I think what people need is education not just awareness. If you still have a fear of BC it means you don’t really understand the disease. We need to educate the people and not scare them. In spite of that pretty pink ribbon there is a lot of fear. An overdose of awareness programmes in October results in a lot of anxious women. This is not right!

We have to put things in perspective; we are 5 times more likely to drop dead because of a heart attack.

How best can we educate people?

Recently we had two local BC survivors speak at Dubai Ladies College to 700 women about themselves. One of them went across the Arctic four months after her double mastectomy. One of them has had it twice — she is a wife, a mother and is athletic.

You educate people by showing them that there is life after cancer, rather than just waving a pink ribbon. I do believe that having survivors around is a very powerful way of people learning that life goes on. Besides that there should be talks in schools, colleges and companies.

How will the Walkathon help?

Exercise is good for everyone. In a walkathon there is a lot of camaraderie. You will find not just survivors out there but people walking for friends or family. It’s a show of support for cancer patients. Avon has been supporting us since 2000. They put the money collected into research. They do make pink ribbons but the money they raise is put into something that is meaningful. I do hope people will come and support it.

The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer will be flagged off from Zabeel Park' s Gate no. 3 at 5 pm on November 16th (Friday). Registration starts at 2 pm.

Walk for a good cause

The global initiative called a Walk Around The World for Breast Cancer (WATW) is in its third year. It comprises a series of fund-raising and awareness initiatives across 50 countries on Avon Foundation’s map.

This global tour, which involves a local breast cancer survivor symbolically passing a special Global Connection Ribbon to a visiting breast cancer survivor from another country, will have Dubai on its itinerary for the first time.

Local volunteers and breast cancer survivors will participate in this fund-raising event, the proceeds of which will go to Dubai-based Dr Houriya Kazim’s Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Avon Al Hathboor Breast Cancer Funds.

The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer will be held on November 16 (Friday) from Zabeel Park' s Gate no. 3 at 5 pm with registration starting at 2 pm itself. A registration fee of Dhs50 will be collected.

Commenting on the UAE leg of the initiative, Ms Premi Oommen, National Sales Manager, Avon UAE, said: “This walkathon is a part of Avon’s global initiative to build a better tomorrow for all women and particularly breast cancer sufferers. October having been the International Breast Cancer Month (BCAM), Dubai residents have an opportunity to put into action, what they have learnt about the disease. Through their participation in the Walkathon, these volunteers will be actually strengthening the hands of their counterparts worldwide in dispelling ignorance about breast cancer and encouraging sufferers to adopt remedial measures. Already $450 million has been raised in over 50 countries with Ireland alone accounting for 570,000 euros.”

Catherine Nolan a breast cancer survivor from Cork, Ireland, will represent her country at the global Avon initiative in Dubai. Ingrid Po, a breast cancer survivor from the UAE along with Catherine, a mother of five who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, will narrate their journey to recovery at the November 16 event.

The walkathon will also mark its entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as Dubai Healthcare City will attempt the Largest Awareness Ribbon made of flowers.


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