A nationwide survey revealed 72% of women living in the UAE were unable to correctly identify the symptoms of ovarian cancer, a silent killer affecting 250,0002 women worldwide – meaning women are less likely to be diagnosed until the cancer has spread, significantly reducing the chances of survival.
In the GCC, it is estimated that around 1,350 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, with 750 dying from the disease3.
To aid early diagnosis and treatment options of ovarian cancer, a new campaign called Listen to Your Body was launched across Dubai and Abu Dhabi this week by AstraZeneca Gulf.
The initiative involved a special female vocal performance by the Voices of Harmony in Al Wahda Mall, Abu Dhabi, and City Walk Jumeirah where hundreds of Ovarian Cancer Symptom Tracker Diaries were distributed to women in the crowd.
Dr Aladdin Maarraoui, Consultant Oncologist in Abu Dhabi said the survey, which involved more than 400 women in the UAE, highlighted the challenge of detecting ovarian cancer sooner.
“Ovarian cancer can occur at any age, with women 45 years and older at higher risk. Unfortunately, the symptoms women with early ovarian cancer experience often mimic non-serious causes, such as the menstrual cycle or indigestion,” he said.
“This means they can delay seeking medical advice and it’s not until symptoms progress to the late stages that they will go to see their doctor.”
Due to consistent late worldwide diagnoses, ovarian cancer survival rates are much lower than other cancers that affect women, with a five-year survival rate of 30–50 percent.4 “We know ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive cancers, that’s why it’s vitally important that we do more to raise awareness of the symptoms so women get diagnosed and treated sooner,” Dr Aladdin said.
Dr Faraz Khan, Consultant Oncologist at American Hospital Dubai said as there is no specific diagnostic tool for ovarian cancer, symptom awareness remains of key importance.
“Some of the common symptoms of ovarian cancer are bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating, or feeling full quickly,” he said.
“Obviously not every woman who has these symptoms will have ovarian cancer, but those are the symptoms to watch for and women are recommended to visit their doctor if they experience symptoms more than 12 times during the course of one month.
Another concerning result in the survey showed that almost half (46%) of the respondents did not know why it was important for women to find out whether they had inherited the BRCA gene mutation. Dr Faraz said this further demonstrated that more awareness was needed, as women with BRCA gene mutations are more likely to develop ovarian or breast cancer.
“A BRCA mutation is a mutation in either one of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are tumor suppressor genes. It’s recommended for women who have a strong family history of cancer to be tested for BRCA mutations to help inform medical professionals and patients on monitoring and prevention strategies.”
Another barrier to the earlier detection of ovarian cancer is embarrassment or reluctance to discuss women’s health issues, even with a healthcare professional. The survey revealed that fewer than 15% of women had discussed ovarian cancer with their doctor.
“I think we’re all a little shy when it comes to talking openly about anything to do with the reproductive system,” said Dr Faraz “But I urge all women to ask their doctor if they’re at risk and what they should look out for. It could save their lives.”