When it comes to breast cancer, early detection can save lives

Doctors in Saudi Arabia are urging women to beat cancer by getting regularly screened. (Shutterstock)
Updated 11 October 2017

When it comes to breast cancer, early detection can save lives

JEDDAH: The world is going pink this October as campaigners work to raise awareness about breast cancer and the importance of early detection. In Saudi Arabia, medical professionals are working hard to shed light on the disease and the warning signs that women — and men — should look out for.
Breast cancer occurs as a result of mutations, or abnormal changes, in the genes responsible for regulating the growth of cells and keeping them healthy.
Normal cells will stay where they belong and only divide if and when they need to, however, if the genes are faulty, cells can reproduce to form a tumor. In breast cancer cases, a malignant tumor develops in the breast tissue and can spread.
According to Dr. Marwan Al-Hajjeili, head of the oncology division in King Abdulaziz University’s department of medicine, breast cancer is still not yet fully understood.
“The disease is a misunderstood one, it’s intense and one that is difficult to combat in the late stages. When caught early, it can be controlled. As a consultant, I explain to my patients the importance of understanding what their situation is according to the images obtained from different tests. The stages that come after verifying or refuting depend on these images and it’s best to find hospitals that have advanced machinery for the highest quality images. They’re the most important part of the whole ordeal for confirmation.”
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in Saudi Arabia, according to a 2017 report by the World Health Organization, comprising 18.7 percent of all new registered cases as of 2014.
In cases of breast cancer, medical experts agree that early detection can save lives.
“Women need to be vigilant and aware of their own bodies. If a woman feels that her skin on the breast feels different, some redness, (a change of) shape or the appearance of a lump, she needs to get it checked out to rule out any inconsistencies,” Al-Hajjeili said.
Women above the age of 40 should be screened once a year, but younger women should also keep a routine regimen of health checks.
“The most common cause of breast cancer is hereditary… (but) this doesn’t rule out other factors such as race, ethnicity, menopause and other external factors. However, this is an unpredictable disease and numerous studies are still being conducted to understand it more. The only way to confirm it is through a biopsy — this stage of the test comes after confirming the imaging tests,” Al-Hajjeili said.
For her part, Dr. Suad Mohamad bin Amer, co-founder of Zahra Breast Cancer Association, told Arab News that the disease it easier to deal with if it is caught early.
“When breast cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it’s easier to treat and cure. For this reason, we are encouraging women to be informed about early detection and screening,” she said.
“Nothing can prevent the disease from appearing. Although (the risk of developing) some cancers can be (reduced) through a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercising and not smoking, it is still not a sure thing.”
Doctors agree that an important part of the difficult process is making sure the patient understands exactly what the diagnosis means.
“When breast cancer is confirmed, a thorough sit down must be scheduled with my patient. I go through every single point in terms best understood by the patient, starting with (the fact) that this can be a controlled disease, reassuring them and putting the doubts away. When patients adhere to the guidelines set and follow up regularly, the survival rates can be very high,” the doctor said.
According to a World Health Organization report this year, there were 2,791 confirmed cases of breast cancer in the Kingdom in 2014. The Saudi Ministry of Health reported that the average age at which the cancer was detected in women was 52. As to the causes of breast cancer, age and family history are the top factors while inherited genes, post-menopausal hormone therapy and nutritional factors are also considered to be important factors.
A small percentage of men have also been known to suffer from breast cancer and, despite the lack of awareness, it is also important that men keep abreast of their health and visit the doctor for regular checkups.
Awareness in the Kingdom has increased due to many initiatives and campaigns for early detection, but it is still a taboo subject. The desire to sweep the issue under the carpet has led many to suffer in silence, but times are changing and campaigners are working hard to spread the word that regular screenings are essential.

Ta’ateemah: Giving Eid a Hijazi flavor

Ta’ateemah includes a variety of dishes such as dibyazah, red mish, chicken and lamb stew and bread. File/Getty Images
Updated 19 June 2018

Ta’ateemah: Giving Eid a Hijazi flavor

  • Dibyaza is made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peach and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread
  • The dibyaza is also similar to an Egyptian dish called khoshaf, but dibyaza is often partnered with shureik — a donut-shaped bread with sesame sprinkled all over it

JEDDAH: Ta’ateemah is the name of the breakfast feast Hijazis enjoy on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr. It is derived from the Arabic word, itmah, or darkness, because the dishes served are light, just like midnight snacks.

Muslims around the world celebrate Eid Al-Fitr to feast after fasting for the holy month of Ramadan. But it is called Al-Fitr from iftar, or breakfast when translated to English, which is a meal Muslims do not get to experience during that month.
The first day of Eid is a day where they finally can, and they greet the day with joy by heading to Eid prayers and then enjoying this traditional meal.
Amal Turkistani, mother of five from Makkah who now lives in Jeddah, told Arab News all about a special Eid dish.
“The most famous dish is the dibyaza, and making a dish of it is a work of art that I can proudly say I excel at. Dibyaza is made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peach and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread.”
She revealed that dibyaza is not a quick meal — it is usually prepared a day or two before Eid with the ingredients simmered to reach the correct liquid thickness.
No one can trace the origins of dibyaza — it remains a mystery. Some people claim it originated in Turkey, while others attribute it to the Indians.
A number of women who are famous for their dibyaza agreed that it is a Makkawi dish. This marmalade dish was developed and improved, with tiny details to distinguish it.
The dibyaza is also similar to an Egyptian dish called khoshaf, but dibyaza is often partnered with shureik — a donut-shaped bread with sesame sprinkled all over it.
Turkistani said sweet shops sell 1 kg of dibyaza for SR50 ($13), competing with housewives who make their own.


“I think it is always tastier when it’s homemade because of all the love that goes into making it. It’s also a wonderful way to greet your family and neighbors with this special dish that you only enjoy once a year.”
Her younger sister, Fatin, said: “My siblings always have Eid breakfast at my place, so it’s up to me to prepare the feast. My sister spares me the exhausting dibyaza-making, so I prepare two main dishes: Minazalla, which is a stew of lamb chops with tahini and a tomato chicken stew.
“She also serves what we call nawashif, or dry food, like different types of cheese and olives, pickled lemon, labneh, red mish — a mixture of white cheese, yogurt and chili pepper and halwa tahini,” Amal said.
Mohammed Ibrahim, 23, from Makkah, told Arab News: “It always feels unique to have minazalla and nawashif during Eid, and not just because it is followed by the Eidiyah.”


What is Eidiyah?

It is money elders in the family give to the youth to celebrate Eid and to congratulate them on completing Ramadan fasting.