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Awareness about colorectal cancer risks still low.

Abu Dhabi: Despite colorectal cancer being the second-most prevalent cancer among residents in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, awareness about its risks is still very low, senior health officials said in the capital.

In fact, a survey conducted by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HD) in late 2011 and early 2012 showed that most Abu Dhabi residents did not know how to screen for the disease, or how common it was among the population.

A series of initiatives and events is therefore being organised by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HD), with the aim of emphasising the need for regular screenings for the disease among those aged 40 and above.

"At present, 70 per cent of patients with the disease are diagnosed at advanced stages, simply because very few people know what it is. In addition, unlike breast cancer which is often indicated by a visible lump, the symptoms of colorectal cancer are very commonplace," Dr Jal Taher, head of cancer control and prevention at the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HD), told Gulf News.

"However, if the disease is detected early, the survival rate is almost 93 per cent," she added.

She was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting held to mark the launch of colorectal cancer activities across the emirate.

The cancer, which occurs in the colon and the rectum, is a malignant tumour that develops over a period of 10-15 years. In the beginning, the disease is often marked by small polyps (growth of tissue), some of which can become cancerous. In other cases, abnormal cells in the lining of the colon or rectum can also indicate cancer.

"Because the disease develops slowly, our aim is to detect and remove any abnormal tissue as early as possible, even before they have become malignant. This way, patients can be protected from the cancer," Dr Jal said.

Colorectal cancer accounts for eight per cent of all cancer cases in the emirate. According to the HD, 101 new cases were recorded in 2011, and there were about 50 deaths from the disease. The disease is also more common among older men than women.

Some of the symptoms of the cancer are abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting and fatigue. Others include unexplained weight loss, blood in stool, or change in normal bowel habits, such as diarrhoea and constipation.

The HD therefore recommends colonoscopies every 10 years for adults between the ages of 40 and 75. This procedure involves the insertion of a tube to detect polyps, and can even be used to remove abnormal tissue.

In addition, faecal immunochemical tests (FIT) are recommended every two years to help detect hidden blood in stool.

The tests are currently free for Emiratis, and the HD hopes to screen about 45 per cent of the target population in the next five years. Expatriates whose insurance does not cover the screening must, on the other hand, shell out Dh200 for the FIT and upto Dh5,000 for a colonoscopy.

"We are in talks with our campaign partners to offer discounts at certain health-care facilities for expatriates who wish to be screened," Dr Jal said.

A previous HD campaign to encourage colorectal cancer screenings was introduced in the Bani Yas area in 2009. It saw muted response from residents, and when asked, Dr Jal said this could have stemmed from very little awareness about the disease at the time.

"In fact, a survey we conducted last year showed that people knew about breast cancer and cervical cancer, but very few were informed about colorectal cancer. The current HD campaign therefore includes awareness events at malls, as well as television and radio adverts," she said.

In addition, medical professionals are also being trained to conduct the screenings and educate residents about the disease.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Mar 17, 2013
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