How tech is revolutionizing breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in Saudi Arabia

Special How tech is revolutionizing breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in Saudi Arabia
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Special How tech is revolutionizing breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in Saudi Arabia
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Saudi Arabia formed the largest pink ribbon with 10,000 women. (AN file photo)
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Updated 07 October 2022

How tech is revolutionizing breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in Saudi Arabia

How tech is revolutionizing breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in Saudi Arabia
  • Breast cancer diagnoses have increased fivefold over 17 years owing to improved screening
  • Breakthroughs in detection using artificial intelligence could help further improve cancer care

JEDDAH: Technological advancements in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer are radically improving the chances of survival, recovery, and quality of life for women in Saudi Arabia, according to health experts. 

Breast cancer is among the biggest challenges facing health systems worldwide. Studies have shown that a girl born today has a one-in-eight chance of developing breast cancer during the course of her lifetime. 


2.3 million

Women diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide in 2020.

According to the World Health Organization, there were 2.3 million new breast cancer cases and 685,000 deaths in 2020. By the end of that year, 7.8 million women had been diagnosed within the past five years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer.

Over the last three decades, the number of breast cancer diagnoses has risen, mainly due to the increased use of screening, early detection, and better overall public awareness of self-checking and reporting. 

In Saudi Arabia, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women aged over 40. However, more than 50 percent of cases are detected at a late stage, compared to 20 percent in Western countries, which means the Kingdom has a higher mortality rate. 

Riyadh’s Kingdom Centre skyscraper is lit pink every October. (Shutterstock)

In most cases, breast cancer does not develop clear symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms usually start to appear only after a tumor begins to grow. But, if detected early, the average recovery rate can be as high as 96 percent.

There are several factors associated with delayed diagnosis. These include age, poor awareness of self-examination and symptoms, social taboos, fear of stigma, and the effectiveness of public health campaigns.

According to a recent study, titled “Breast cancer stage migration in Saudi Arabia: Examining the influence of screening,” published in the Global Journal on Quality and Safety in Healthcare, 2,463 breast cancer cases were diagnosed in the Kingdom between January and December 2017. 

It found that breast cancer accounted for 17.7 percent of all cancers reported in Saudi citizens, and 30.9 percent of all cancers recorded among women of all ages.

A bus for an awareness walk from King Saud University in Riyadh to Diriyah Gate. (Supplied)

However, the study also showed that the diagnosis rate had increased fivefold over a period of 17 years, which could be attributed to an improvement in breast cancer awareness and screening programs in the Kingdom.

“A national screening program in the Kingdom was launched in 2012 and targeted women above the age of 40, ten years younger than those of western countries,” Dr. Timor Al-Alshee, a breast oncology consultant at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Jeddah, told Arab News. 

“Though we don’t know the reasons behind early detection in the Kingdom per se, public health awareness campaigns have immensely changed the way the community sees and understands the disease, but we have a long way to go and efforts are being made to increase awareness every year. But it’s still not enough.” 

Dr. Timor Al-Alshee. (Supplied)

Al-Alshee said more women are getting regular mammograms, especially those with a family history of breast cancer.

“When it comes to breast cancer, it’s no secret about the implications of late detection and what makes people more comfortable today with their diagnosis is how advanced medicine has recognized there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach,” said Al-Alshee. 

“Today, we have the tools to personalize a treatment plan and it all starts with getting a mammogram.”

Saudi Health Ministry info​​​graphic

Mammography is one of the greatest innovations in breast cancer care, as it is the only screening technology proven to decrease the breast cancer mortality rate and an essential tool for breast cancer detection.

Today, breakthroughs in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer with the help of new technologies, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), are improving care even further. 

Nearly two years ago, the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) began looking into the integration of AI into the breast-cancer screening pathway and has since created an AI system solution that can analyze mammography images and detect abnormalities in scans. 

In coordination with the Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH), the SDAIA launched the first phase of the AI system at the Global AI Summit in Riyadh this September. 

The system can triage routine mammography exams with a high degree of sensitivity, to support radiologists and oncologists by detecting positively malignant tumors.

With an all-Saudi team, 70 percent of whom are women, the SDAIA has cooperated with specialists to validate the results and to ensure that the AI system is integrable and can be quickly adopted across all systems. 

“In its initial phase, the AI system is used in cooperation and is limited to two entities: The National Program for Breast Cancer Detection under the MOH and the Seha-Virtual-Hospital,” the SDAIA told Arab News.

Saudi schoolchildren go pink as part of the Breast Cancer Awareness Month's activities. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

“We seek to make the system available on a national scale, which will require enhancements to scale it up and develop further through the help of local partners. The system is currently working on the screening phase and we’re working to add more features to help with the national efforts to screen 4 million women (above 40 years of age) in the Kingdom.” 

Mammograms acquired through population-based breast cancer screening programs, such as Saudi Arabia’s National Program for Breast Cancer Detection, can produce a significant workload for radiologists. 

Healthcare providers usually meet to discuss cancer cases and evaluate information to determine a diagnosis, the best treatment, and care plan for an individual patient. This process can take several weeks.

"We’re looking at an 80:20 ratio where 80 percent of the cases can be excluded by the same and the other 20 percent will be the main focus for physicians eventually,” the authority said.

With the AI model system, the screening time will be drastically reduced, and with further enhancements and developments provided by national developers, additional features can be added to the system to increase innovation.

Saudi Health Ministry info​​​graphic

“By coordinating with specialists, we’re training the algorithms to for example detect pathologically proven cancers by mimicking human behaviors and practices. We’re using screening data, diagnostic data, investigations, and more to train the system. The accuracy of AI should exceed the accuracy of radiologists in some cases.”

A common concern for screening efficacy  is tissue density. Women with dense tissue have a higher risk of breast cancer misdiagnosis, making it harder for radiologists to see cancer on mammograms. 

According to a 2020 paper published in the medical journal European Radiology, 22 percent of the screen-detected cancers are missed, based on a review of prior screening mammograms with diagnostic images. 

Shutterstock illustration image

“Breast density makes the screening test a little more challenging for radiologists and especially for women younger than 50. They may be called back for a follow up,” said Al-Alshee. “The difference between screening today and a decade ago is the advancement in technology that can interpret digital mammograms. 

“Advancements also include developing individual treatment plans with less aggressive side effects such as targeted therapies to block the growth of breast cancer cells, new therapeutic approaches in surgeries such as conservative mastectomies for the aesthetic satisfaction of breast cancer patients coupled with the oncological safety, and many more advancements thanks to modern medicine,” he added. 

Beyond detection, emerging technologies are also radically improving breast cancer care. The expansion of targeted therapies has increased treatment options for patients, as new areas of research ranging from immunotherapies, to vaccines, and recurrence prevention are being explored.

“Our vision is clear. We want to save lives,” said Al-Alshee. “Once a patient gets a confirmed diagnosis early, they will find the best treatment in the comfort of their home, surrounded by their loved ones, and with a very supportive ecosystem.

“The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prospects of beating the cancer. Coupled with today’s advancement in technology, the success rate will be even greater.”


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Young Saudi digital artist’s work showcased at major music festival

Young Saudi digital artist’s work showcased at major music festival
Updated 05 December 2022

Young Saudi digital artist’s work showcased at major music festival

Young Saudi digital artist’s work showcased at major music festival
  • MDLBeast Soundstorm event displays Ahaad Alamoudi’s falcon images on giant screen
  • It was one of three commissioned artworks displayed at the event through a collaboration between independent arts initiative Edge of Arabia and YallaSwap

RIYADH: A Saudi art student’s digital work has been showcased on a giant screen at one of the world’s biggest music festivals.

Ahaad Alamoudi’s colorful falcons creation went on display at the third edition of MDLBeast’s Soundstorm event held in the desert outside of Riyadh.

The moving digital images featured on a horizontal 128-meter screen near to the festival’s DownBeast stage.

Alamoudi, who is currently studying for a Ph.D. at the Royal College of Art in London, said the falcon was a traditional symbol that not only represented the transformations taking place in Saudi Arabia but also the importance of preserving the country’s natural environment.

The Jeddah-born artist’s work appeared alongside acts by top international music stars, Saudi DJs, and rap and hip-hop performers in the first presentation of its kind at the festival.

It was one of three commissioned artworks displayed at the event through a collaboration between independent arts initiative Edge of Arabia, and YallaSwap, a web3 platform bringing the next generation of digital content to the Arab world through digital collectibles, unique experiences, and community.

One of them, by Riyadh-based pixel artist KldPxl, aimed to capture the beauty and loneliness of the modern world through complex digital compositions such as empty gas stations and desert highways.

The artist told Arab News: “Music and art are two of my biggest passions and combining them in one project was especially rewarding.

“I felt really honored to have my work displayed at MDLBeast and potentially seen by over 100,000 local and international attendees.”

Also on display was the work of graphic designer Yusef Alahmad who specializes in Arabic typography with a focus on the cross-cultural aesthetics between the Western and Arab worlds.

Alahmad gained a master of fine arts degree in graphic design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and currently works as art director for Edge of Arabia.

YallaSwap founder, Bader Tazrouti, told Arab News: “The majority of visitors to MDLBeast are local Saudis and we wanted to provide them with local digital art to appreciate.

“We are a web3 marketplace for the Arab world localized through content. We were with top-tier local artists and through curation, with Edge of Arabia, we want to emphasize the local context for these creatives and their aesthetics.”

The works used the latest technology to try and push the boundaries of creativity, while adhering to tradition.

Edge of Arabia founder, Stephen Stapleton, told Arab News: “The works are surreal, technological, and exciting; a collision of past, present, and future and a reflection of what is happening in society.

“The work is made for the people, and this is why we chose these three artists — they want to reach the broader population through their art, not just the art crowd.”

Through their digital medium, the works aimed to reflect the electronic music experience — dizzying, escapist, and inspiring.

Similar to the growing community of Saudi electronic music stars and DJs, these contemporary artists are attempting to pay tribute to their country’s rich heritage while innovating and expanding through technology and contemporary culture.

The first YallaSwap meetup was organized in October in collaboration with Edge of Arabia, and Badiya Studio/Jazzy Spa Sounds, whose founders Warchief and Chindy performed at the DownBeast stage on the opening day of this year’s Soundstorm.

Yogasana Sports Championship concludes in Jeddah

Yogasana Sports Championship concludes in Jeddah
Updated 05 December 2022

Yogasana Sports Championship concludes in Jeddah

Yogasana Sports Championship concludes in Jeddah
  • Participants from all age groups displayed different “asanas”
  • Candidates were selected on the basis of their performance

JEDDAH: The first-ever Yogasana Sports Championship in Saudi Arabia concluded in Jeddah on Saturday at the University of Business and Technology with more than 112 participants from all across the Kingdom.

The one-day event was organized by the Saudi Yoga Committee to promote yoga as a competitive sport in cooperation with the Saudi Sports Ministry and in the presence of experts from the Asian Yogasana Sports Federation.

During the championship, participants from all age groups displayed different postures, known as “asanas,” and candidates were selected on the basis of their performance.

Participants came from various age groups, ranging from 6 years old to over 18.

Nouf Al-Marwaai, the Saudi Yoga Committee’s president, said that encouraging participation in yoga from an early age can foster a health-conscious society.

She said that she is proud of the launch of this tournament, the first of its kind in the region, and that it is reflective of the efforts of the Kingdom to promote the practice.

“Such competitions motivate youth to commit to regular yoga practice,” she added.

“Both the male and female referees who arbitrated the championship are from the first group of Saudi yogasana referees, whose graduation was celebrated by the committee shortly before the lunch of the tournament.”

The number of graduates in Riyadh included 19 women from several different regions in the Kingdom, while the number of graduates in Jeddah included 22 women.

The Saudi Yoga Committee has organized a training camp, hosted by the University of Business and Technology, a full week before the start of the tournament, with the aim of preparing participants for the championship, Al-Marwaai explained.

Yoga instructor Noura Nour, whose team traveled from Riyadh to participate in the championship, told Arab News that she is happy to see such an event held in Saudi Arabia. 

“Yoga has become increasingly popular in Saudi Arabia. As a yoga instructor, I have seen many people of all ages joining our classes because they realized that the sport of yogasana has many benefits for their health. I am sure that the Saudi Yoga Committee will take it to a higher level,” Nour said.

Hasan Al-Hajjaj from Qatif, who bagged third place in the recent Yoga International Championship organized by the UN, said that yogasana is booming in Saudi Arabia with the support of the Ministry of Sports and the Saudi Yoga Committee.

Rahi, a certified yoga instructor who participated in the championship, said: “I am so glad to be part of the first yogasana championship, and I am so happy to see yoga growing so fast in the Kingdom.”

Joud Sharaf, a 12-year-old yogi who represented the Saudi Yoga Committee at the UTS Festival for Artistic Yoga during the second edition of the Asian Games hosted by Saudi Arabia, told Arab News that she is enjoying yoga and hopes to improve in order to participate in international championships.

KSRelief distributes over 92 tons of food baskets in Marib

KSRelief distributes over 92 tons of food baskets in Marib
Updated 05 December 2022

KSRelief distributes over 92 tons of food baskets in Marib

KSRelief distributes over 92 tons of food baskets in Marib

RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) distributed 92 tons and 127 kilograms of food baskets in Yemen’s Marib governorate, benefiting 5,166 people.
This is part of the Food Security Support Project 2022, which is being implemented by KSRelief in Yemen and aims to distribute more than 192,000 food baskets weighing more than 20,000 tons to needy and affected families in 15 Yemeni governorates.
KSRelief also continued to implement its voluntary medical project for specialized surgeries in Gambia, which is being carried out from Nov. 28 to Dec. 4.
Since the beginning of the campaign, the voluntary medical team has performed 105 surgeries.
Also, KSRelief distributed 1,644 winter bags in Pakistan, benefiting 11,508 people. 
This comes within the framework of the relief and humanitarian projects and voluntary programs being implemented by Saudi Arabia, represented by the KSRelief, for a number of brotherly and friendly countries.

HMS Hail commissioned into Saudi Arabia’s naval service

HMS Hail commissioned into Saudi Arabia’s naval service
Updated 05 December 2022

HMS Hail commissioned into Saudi Arabia’s naval service

HMS Hail commissioned into Saudi Arabia’s naval service
  • This is the third ship to be launched, following Al-Jubail and Al-Diriya, as part of the Sarawat project

SAN FERNANDO, Madrid: The Royal Saudi Naval Forces has commissioned into active service His Majesty’s Ship Hail at the Navantia shipyard in San Fernando, Spain, state news agency SPA reported.

This is the third ship to be launched, following Al-Jubail and Al-Diriya, as part of the Sarawat project of five combat ships aimed at improving the Kingdom’s maritime defense capabilities and interests.

Rear Admiral Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Ghofaily, Commander of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces, together with other Saudi and Spanish officials hoisted the Saudi Arabian flag on the ship to mark its official commissioning into the naval service.

Sawarat is a joint venture between the Saudi Arabian Military Industries company and Spain’s state-owned Navantia to build multi-purpose combat ships for the Saudi navy as well as localize 50 percent of military industries by 2030.

Under the joint venture, Saudi Arabia’s navy will also have its first Saudi system, nicknamed Hazm, that would contribute to localize military industries through transformation of technology and national staff intensive training

HMS Diriya, the second ship of the Sarawat project, is scheduled to reach Saudi Arabia early next year after having completed its training program in Spain.

The launch of the fourth and fifth ships, HMS Jazan and HMS Onaiza, will meanwhile take place in Saudi Arabia under the sponsorship of Saudi engineers who have received training in Spain.

Cross-cultural dialogue at heart of Riyadh Philosophy Conference

Cross-cultural dialogue at heart of Riyadh Philosophy Conference
Updated 05 December 2022

Cross-cultural dialogue at heart of Riyadh Philosophy Conference

Cross-cultural dialogue at heart of Riyadh Philosophy Conference
  • Event’s 2nd edition asked questions surrounding space exploration and impact on humanity

RIYADH: Over the course of three days, scientists, writers, historians, professors and philosophers from around the world gathered at the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh to discuss the major issues affecting humanity today.

The second edition of the conference, which concluded on Dec. 3, was dedicated to the theme of “Knowledge and Exploration: Space, Time and Humanity.”

A total of 71 speakers attended from more than 19 countries around the world, including the US, UK, UAE, Mexico, Italy, Singapore, Italy, Germany and Egypt, making the conference a diverse platform to discuss ideas and topics pertinent to our world today. Attendees numbered around 2,700.

The second edition of the conference was dedicated to questions revolving space exploration and its philosophical and social implications for humanity. (Photo/Huda Bashatah)

“A conference such as this has cross-cultural dialogue at its heart. Inviting and welcoming leading philosophers from all over the world is not a one-way thing,” Dr. Mohammed Hasan Alwan, CEO of the Literature, Publishing & Translation Commission, told Arab News. “It is, instead, a two-way dialogue, with international experts joining their Saudi and regional colleagues in a spirit of intellectual exploration that is far more profound and far-reaching because it is done in a spirit of partnership.”

This year’s conference continues the efforts of last year’s event, which was the first of its kind to take place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “Our conference has been bigger and more ambitious in many ways,” added Alwan.

The conference was established, he said, “because we believe in philosophy and its relevance in our world.”

The second edition of the conference, which concluded on Dec. 3, was dedicated to the theme of “Knowledge and Exploration: Space, Time and Humanity.” (Photo/Huda Bashatah)

The theme of the conference was highly topical to ongoing debates surrounding space exploration.

“The conference theme is, to coin a science fiction phrase, ‘going boldly where few conferences have gone before,” said Alwan. “We chose a theme that was challenging, and yet which also showed just how philosophical thinking is absolutely vital for humanity, because of its ability to map out entirely new intellectual territory that relates to space exploration, to humanity’s potential extra-terrestrial activities.”

The topic of space exploration is also reflective of Saudi Arabia’s own plans. In September 2022, the Kingdom announced that it had launched a new astronaut program. Its first journey, set for 2023, will carry a female Saudi astronaut, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Over the course of three days, scientists, writers, historians, professors, and philosophers from around the world gathered at the King Fahad National Library in Riyadh to discuss pressing major issues affecting humanity today. (Photo/Huda Bashatah)

“What has been impressive is the ability to speak to a diverse and large population here that you don’t find in academic conferences; attendees this year included even investment bankers and people working in the oil industry,” Nicolas de Warren, professor of philosophy at Penn State University in the US, who was attending the conference for the second time, told Arab News. “I was impressed again by the level of sophistication and questions from the diverse audience.”

De Warren chaired a panel titled “Exploring Space and Time Today.” His research looks at the impact of science fiction literature which, as he says, “imagines not only the exploration of space but what it would mean to enter into contact with other life forms or alien civilizations. It is what is called first contact narratives.”

Such ideas raise the fundamental philosophical question of if we as a species are alone in the universe? Are there other life forms? How do we know if there are other life forms? Why has there been no contact with these other life forms? And what would it really represent if, indeed, one day, there was the discovery that there are other intelligent life forms and civilizations?

De Warren discussed such questions in his panel but went a step further. According to his thesis, these questions do not really concern aliens but ourselves.

“It has to do with the way in which we project our planetary fears onto some imaginary alien to sublimate them,” he said. “From that perspective, it’s not fortuitous that during the 1950s and 1960s, one of the dominant genres of science fiction literature and films was invasion narratives — Martians are coming, and so on. That reflects the sort of sublimation one found during the Cold War.”

Apart from delving into pressing issues involving our world today and fostering cross-cultural dialogue, the conference also had a pedagogical aspect.

A pavilion area with workshops for children called Philosophers of Tomorrow, a Philosophical Camp for philosophical dialogue, and a debating competition for trained teams of college students called Reading Between the Lines Competition underlined the importance of fostering philosophy inquiry and thought within educational platforms, schools and communities in the Kingdom.

“We’ve done more than before to encourage children and young people to participate in the conference through a Philosopher’s Cafe, which has space for members of the audience to discuss philosophical topics with the conference’s speakers,” added Alwan.

This year the conference partnered with more organizations, ranging from international universities, the International Federation of Philosophical Societies, as well as the Saudi Space Commission, and several Saudi organizations engaged in promoting philosophical thinking, such as Baseera, the Saudi Center of Philosophy and Ethics, Mekal Philosophy Club and the Saudi Philosophy Association.

“We abstract the tools that philosophers use and try to invite teachers to apply those tools in their curriculum,” said Dalia Toonsi, educational consultant, founder and general manager of Baseera Educational Consultancy. Baseera, an institute that trains teachers to implement dialogical and philosophical teaching as well as learning methods into the curriculum of Saudi schools, was taking part in the event for the second time.

“People in the Arab world generally don’t think philosophy is an interesting subject,” said Toonsi. Baseera’s work emphasizes the importance of philosophical inquiry in schools.

Toonsi said: “Tools from philosophy entail critical thinking, examining assumptions, deduction and reduction, and inquiry and also caring thinking, related more to children, which gives children the ability to open their minds to different opinions related to philosophical inquiry.”