What comes before and after Pinktober?

Pinktober and its accompanying ribbon have become synonymous with the month of October. According to the experts at Danat Al Emarat, however, awareness is just the first step.

PARTNER CONTENT: Terms like early detection, mammograms and celebrating survivors appear everywhere during Pinktober. And rightfully so, of course. Breast cancer occurs in every country of the world in women at any age after puberty, but with increasing rates in later life.

According to the World Health Organization, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685 000 deaths globally in 2020. As of the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past five years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer.

This is why for several decades now, most experts have touted early detection as a key element in the battle against the disease. This is where Danat Al Emarat, a Mubadala Health partner, becomes an important stop point for all women.

The Abu Dhabi-based world-class specialty women and children’s hospital is everything you might need this Pinktober and, of course, well beyond the pink month. The five-story hospital, accredited as a clinical research centre by the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, is enormous and well-equipped from technology to the best clinicians, but more importantly, it is also patient-centric.

In addition to a plethora of services, the hospital offers Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Internal Medicine, Women’s Diagnostics & Breast Imaging that is second to none. What gives Danat Al Emarat its edge is the hospital’s ability to not just provide services, but also ensure patients are well-informed to be able to make the best decisions for themselves. A skill that becomes extremely crucial on this front.

From self-examinations to screening, there is an abundance of information that is provided to all patients. Not to mention the regular reminders for screenings at the hospital, and a partnership with Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi for further treatment. A barrage of self-examination pamphlets can get overwhelming though, so, where does one begin?


Dr. Lara Elkoussayer Danat Al Emarat


According to Dr Lara Elkoussayer, Specialist, Obstetrics & Gynecology, the most important thing for a woman to know is what to look for during self-examinations, and when it is time to visit a gynaecologist.

Much like her peers, she too underlines the importance of early detection and the pivotal role it plays.

“The earlier we detect cancer, the easier the treatment will be,” she says. “The relative survival rate, which is the number of women still alive five years after discovery, is also much higher, averaging 90 per cent.”

“It’s statistically proven that with early detection, the rate of complete recovery is much higher. As is the number of years that women will live, with a significant reduction in the need for chemotherapy, radiation or even total mastectomy.”

Danat Al Emarat essentially serves as a screening point for women, offering mammogram, biopsy and ultrasound services. The hospital marks the first step wherein women are examined for concerns like alarming discharge, change in colour or texture of the nipple, or any masses/lumps. If all is good to go, the woman is simply asked to return for a routine check-up as needed. If not, she is either directed to undergo an ultrasound or a mammogram.

Post results, if there are still further concerns, a biopsy is conducted, and in case of diagnosis, they are referred to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi for further treatment.

Risk factor calculation is one of the basics when it comes to early detection. Dr Lara says, “While no one cause of breast cancer can be determined, there are certain risk factors. Family history, self-history, any masses (lumps), history of any other kind of cancer, etc. If she’s been on treatment like radiation or something for a long time, that’s also considered a risk.”

However, not all lumps or masses are cancerous. “For example, something like adenofibrosis,” Dr Lara adds, “is a very benign common pathology in the breast. There is no treatment usually, we just observe it and if there’s anything that’s bothering the women, we discuss it. Usually, it’s just about differentiating and reassuring the ladies that it’s a benign cyst.”

The hospital advises monthly self-examination. However, mammograms are suggested largely for those above 40 years old every two years, or more often for younger women considered at higher risk.


Accessible Motherhood Post Breast Cancer Treatment


Dr Ghada Hussein Danat Al Emarat


But breast cancer is not just about mammograms. An oft-undiscussed yet fundamental facet of discussions is fertility concerns. Women undergoing certain forms of chemotherapy or radiation exposure as part of their treatment might experience difficulty conceiving later, or even infertility. However, Danat Al Emarat has that taken care of too.

Dr Ghada Hussein, Consultant Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility (IVF) from HealthPlus Fertility Center in Abu Dhabi, a sister facility that also runs a clinic at Danat Al Emarat Hospital, says advanced technology is making worries about conception obsolete.

Thanks to a decreased mortality rate, motherhood has become far more accessible post breast cancer treatment. Several fertility preservation techniques can be put into motion even before treatment begins in order to facilitate easier conception later.

Shedding light on the subject, Dr Ghada says, “IVF is the best method if you want it to happen quickly. There are special protocols for that, under which women can receive some kind of hormone injection before they even start their cancer treatment.

“There’s something before, during and after [breast cancer treatment]. In the phase before, we start fertility preservation as soon as possible. Usually, this is done through ovarian stimulation, also known as Random Start, which can begin at any point in the cycle. Depending on the woman’s needs, we freeze either the eggs or the embryos, which takes 10-12 days. [The same] can also be performed vaginally or transabdominal.”

According to the doctor, a major obstruction to fertility preservation services is simply ignorance. While studies have previously pegged only 14 per cent of the population to be aware of their choices, things seem to be taking a slightly better turn thanks to the internet and increasing availability of literature on the same.

So much so, that such services are not restricted to cancer patients alone. Social egg freezing is gaining traction fast, with women from all nationalities (including locals) making enquiries.

“Sometimes, it’s about postponing a family, wanting to build a career, or just not having found a suitable partner yet,” adds Dr Ghada. With the best technology on offer, the doctor mentions a very fruitful technique called Ovarian Tissue Cryopreservation.

On standby till the immensely sophisticated procedures are put into place, the technique involves removing the egg-producing portion of the ovary or the ovarian cortex. This tissue is then frozen until it’s ready to be transplanted back at a later stage. What’s more, the option is open for those diagnosed as young as teenagers as well.

The hospital also prides itself on offering direct consultancy any time after the diagnosis, even if the oncologist isn’t available. Women do not have to wait for a week or more, with the counselling leading to a rapid start, followed by a reference to the sister Cleveland Clinic for top-notch treatment.

Dr Ghada reiterates, “We have a good multidisciplinary team and a good flow of patients; we can give them the needed help as soon as possible. That’s why whenever you get the diagnosis, even if the oncologist isn’t available or doesn’t inform the patient about it, the patient should come and consult fertility specialists.”

When it comes to breast cancer and the science surrounding it, there have been some leaps and some lulls. Men may not have a screening process in place yet, but there are newer and more effective treatments appearing regularly. An important component to combat the disease, as always, revolves around awareness and alertness.

As highlighted by Dr Lara, what most people fail to realise is that your gynaecologist can only serve as a comfortable screening point, but is unable to offer you treatment for breast cancer. And that is simply because breast cancer is not classified as gynaecological cancer.

At Danat Al Emarat, however, your bases are covered, thanks to their excellent services and better references. Given the delicate nature of the matters at hand, what patients ultimately need is the deft touch of a sensitive professional. And that’s exactly as this hospital promises.

For more information, visit Danat Al Emarat

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Image source Danat Al Emarat

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