The Future of Cancer in the UAE: A medical rollercoaster ride
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The Future of Cancer in the UAE: A medical rollercoaster ride

Is cancer something you think about often? It should be... or should it? While some predict a dramatic increase in cancer incidences in the future, the UAE medical establishment believes they can reduce cancer rates in the Emirates. Who is right? Read on to find out more.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 4,500 people a year in the UAE are stricken with cancer. Of these, over 1,200 die of the disease. Among those with cancer in the UAE, men are most likely to develop colorectal cancer, while women are most likely (and by a very large margin) to develop breast cancer.  Needless to say, cancer should be a concern for people in the UAE, just as it should be for people in all developed nations; where affluence and sedentary lifestyles are leading to increased incidences of non-communicable diseases as people live longer, including cancer.

Recently, two different reports have outlined very different possibilities regarding the future of cancer rates in the UAE. One report foresees a dramatic increase over the next 15 years, while another predicts a drop in the disease’s prevalence in the relatively short term. Which one is correct? Here, UAE Medical Insurance examines the future of cancer in the UAE, and what steps can be taken by the government and individuals alike to address the condition.


Disease doubling

A recent piece in the Middle East Insurance Review cites WHO estimates that cancer rates in the Eastern Mediterranean region, of which the Middle East is a part of, are likely to nearly double by the year 2030. This is the largest such projected increase for any region in the world! So why is this happening?

One of the major factors involved is that people in countries throughout the Middle East are living longer. An ageing population naturally leads to an increased incidence of cancer, as people in developed states are less likely to succumb to communicable diseases or deaths as the results of factors like crime or war. Additionally, smoking is still prevalent in the region.  In the UAE, about 3 in 10 men smoke tobacco regularly, and about 80% of lung cancer patients in the Emirates are tobacco users. (Lung cancer being the 4th most prevalent cancer among UAE males.)

Finally, unhealthy lifestyles, combining both unhealthy diets and sedentary living, are a major culprit related to increasing cancer rates. As countries develop and people move more and more towards white collar jobs, activity levels go down and waistlines expand. Combine this with longer lifespans and you have a perfect storm of factors that can lead to lifestyle diseases, including (you guessed it) cancer of all stripes.


The Emirates strike back

The fact is, despite all of the above, the UAE has one of the lowest cancer mortality rates in the world. Reported to be 79.69 deaths per 100,000 by theWHO in 2014, the UAE ranks lower than many other prominent countries, including the USA, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, China, Japan, South Korea and Brazil. However, the UAE also had a higher mortality rate than its Middle East counterparts Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.

Never ones to rest on their laurels, a recent article fromGulf News expounds on the UAE’s plans to cut cancer rates. The goal is to reduce cancer cases by 18% by the year 2021, which seems ambitious given only a 5 year window and the regional increase predicted by the WHO for 2030. How ambitious is it, exactly? Well, the country’s goal of a 64.2 out of 100,000 cancer mortality rate would put the UAE inside the top 10 countries worldwide. So what makes the UAE government believe that this Herculean task can be achieved?

Well, while the doctors in the article do highlight the roles of a various factors that can lead to cancer, including pollution, lifestyle, viruses and heredity, they mention two specific issues that will be directly responsible for accomplishing the goals that the UAE has set forth for cancer reduction: awareness & screening and new medical technology.

First off, an increase in cancer awareness has already lead to more regular screenings, and has allowed doctors to catch cancer in its early stages, which is critical in creating successful outcomes in treating cancer.

The main point of the plan for 2021, though, is the development of new drugs and treatments. In 2015 alone, 50 new therapies were created to either treat cancer patients or reduce the impact of the diseases symptoms on them. This is up from 35 such therapies in 2014.

The crux of many of these treatments is genetics. By focusing on an individual patient’s genes, and the known ‘driver mutations’ that can be found within them, researchers and doctors can create bespoke targeted treatments. There are 300 known genes that relate to cancer, so attacking the right combination can do wonders in battling cancer.

Another new type of therapy mentioned engages the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. This is done by using a new drug to prevent cancer cells from stopping the body’s own white blood cells from attacking them. 2 such drugs have already been approved in the US.


Beyond prevention

Whatever the future holds for the disease in the UAE, the fact remains that cancer is likely to be prevalent for years to come. Barring a great leap in medical technology that wipes out cancer as we know it (such as gene therapy or some similar procedure), cancer is virtually inevitable in older people if they’re able to avoid dying from other diseases. Furthermore, the newest treatments that doctors in the UAE will be relying on for battling cancer will come with the heftiest price tags. The Gulf News article even mentioned costs of new treatments running as high as Dh23,000 per month!

For these reasons, it is imperative that people adhere to the DHA’s recent reforms and possess their own private health insurance plan. Of course, the minimum benefits laid required for cancer treatment, as spelled out by the DHA, may not always be adequate for every individual’s care.

In light of this, it may be wise to reach out to insurance professionals, like those at UAE Medical Insurance, to analyze your current policy and, if necessary, suggest additional coverage to make sure you are protected from the high costs of cancer treatment. Contact them today to find out more!


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