Dr. Tam Donnelly of University of Calgary-Qatar
Breast cancer is the top cancer among women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The disease is rooted in a complex mix of genetics, increased life expectancy and lifestyle choices as well as environmental factors. In fact, it’s so hard to pinpoint what exactly predisposes someone to breast cancer that preventing it is not as much of a focus on early detection, which is the cornerstone of breast cancer control strategies due to its positive impact on prognosis and survival rates.
“For a lot of reasons, women in Qatar are often diagnosed in late stages of breast cancer,” said Dr. Tam Troung Donnelly, Associate Professor at the University of Calgary in Qatar and lead principal investigator on a potentially groundbreaking study into breast cancer management in Qatar. “Our goal is to find out what influenced their decision on whether or not they practice breast self-examination, or seek mammograms and clinical breast examinations.”
Dr. Donnelly and her team* developed a three-stage research program to first “understand the breast health experience of Arabic women in Qatar,” second “identify and implement strategies that assist women to participate in breast cancer screening activities,” and third “evaluate, facilitate and sustain the participation of Arabic women in breast cancer screening.”
The first stage of the study—based on the team’s survey of 1063 women, over age 35, living in the cities of Doha, Al Wakrah and Al Khor— is complete
“Among the women we surveyed, there’s a very low participation rate in breast self-examination and clinical breast examination, and mammogram,” Dr. Donnelly said. “Most women have very basic awareness of breast cancer. They know about breast cancer, they know they should go for breast cancer screening, but an actual knowledge about what age they have to go and have their exam or mammogram or actually know what to do … it’s quite low.”
The most surprising results of the stage one surveys involved the perception of male approval and support regarding breast screening.
“What we found in our survey is that a very low percentage—around 1.1 percent—of the participants report that their husband or male family members are not supportive of them having breast examinations,” Dr. Donnelly said. “This is a very encouraging finding.”
Cancer statistics on women in Qatar, courtesy Avicenna
The team plans to build on these findings by conducting more in-depth interviews about perceptions around screening and these will also involve interviews with men, by men, about their thoughts on the subject.
Results from the second part of the study, underway now, will highlight how Arabic women view and participate in breast cancer screening activities; how social, cultural, historical and economic influences impact the rate of participation among Arabic women in breast cancer screening, regarding access to screening services and the social network in place, and what intervention strategies will promote early detection through participation in breast cancer screening among Arabic women.
“We’re hoping to raise awareness about breast cancer and promote breast cancer screening, most importantly around clinical examinations, mammograms and self-examination,” Dr. Donnelly said. “We hope that this awareness helps to decrease the mortality and morbidity from breast cancer in Qatar and that the study findings offer insight into the problem and are useful for healthcare decision-makers and planners here, in the Middle Eastern countries, and for Arabic women around the world.”
*The research team on the study, published in Avicenna, included Drs. Al-Hareth Al-Khater, Rajvir Singh and Nabila Al-Meer of Hamad Medical Corporation, Qatar; Drs. Mohamed Al-Kuwari and Mariam Malik of Qatar’s Supreme Council of Health; Dr. Salha Bujassoum Al-Bader of Al-Amal Hospital in Doha, and Floor Christie-de Jong, of the University of Calgary.
Factors influencing breast cancer screening practices amongst Arabic women living in the State of Qatar.