October is "Breast Cancer Awareness" month all over the world. Egypt is marking the occasion by launching its first awareness campaign on Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC)
The launch event, 12 October, under the auspices of The Breast Cancer Foundation of Egypt (BCFE) in coordination with the Egyptian Ministry of Health, gathered experts and celebrities in various fields along with some of the bravest women who have survived cancer or are still undergoing treatment.
Pink was everywhere, with most in attendance adopting it in their attire. Songs whose lyrics spoke of the beauty and bravery of women facing breast cancer set a positive vibe.
Patients and survivors took to the stage to recount their experiences, encourage others, and shed light on the obstacles they have faced in their treatment.
Manal, a cancer fighter (as she calls herself) was the first to speak. The mum of two spoke about the experience of undergoing treatment some years ago, only to discover that cancer struck back and that she is challenged now with MBC.
Manal said the main obstacle she faced was bureaucracy in seeking treatment. "We cannot afford but to go to government-affiliated hospitals and treatment centres, and the numerous steps and procedures facing us every time drains what little is remaining of our energy and health," she said.
Other patients added also that certain drugs – like zoledronic acid (Zometa) injections for treating cancer related bone complications – are not subsidised for all cancer patients, and that treatment requires moving between many places far apart, which is very hard for the patients.
MBC is defined by the WHO as the advanced stage of cancer, when it spreads from the breast tissues to various body parts, like the brain, organs and lymphatic system. There is no cure, and much treatment is palliative.
Entitled, "Unmute the Stillness," Wednesday's launch event included a panel discussion of professors of radiology, oncology, pain management and psychotherapy. Dr Abeer Meghawry, professor of radiology, made a presentation on behalf of the Ministry of Health.
Ahram Online spoke to Dr Mohamed Shaalan, professor of oncology and head of BCFE, before the event. He said MBC had been neglected for too long.
"In the past 15 years, the sole focus of medical institutions was awareness and early detection, which was — and still is — of utmost importance. But the problem is that it took everybody that time to start tackling the ordeal faced by most breast cancer patients, which is the vicious MBC. This is quite unfortunate and for that we are very sorry," he said.
The panel and the attendants, including members of charitable organisations abroad, discussed numerous aspects of MBC, from spreading awareness to diagnosis, methods of treatment, and the psychological impact of MBC.
The role of the media in spreading awareness was highlighted as well as the roles of care institutions and families in facilitating treatment.
Shaalan shed light on the importance of finance. "The government budget for healthcare is EGP 50 billion, out of which only EGP 4 billion is dedicated to breast cancer. These numbers fall short of the required expenditure, and this is why the private sector and civil society is pivotal," he said.
Latest treatment methods resulting from hormonal and immune system research were highlighted as well as the importance of understanding and applying pain reduction methods.
"Egypt is one of 10 countries least to provide cancer patients with pain killing drugs. The bureaucracy in this respect affects patients to an unfortunate extent," he said
Dr Shaalan asserted that rising numbers of MBC patients is due to a lack of awareness and working only on breast cancer detection, without paying attention to the possibility of its spread to other parts of the body.
According to the National Cancer Registry Programme (NCRP), cancer incidence in Egypt runs at 166 cases for every 100,000 citizens.
Liver cancer tops the list, at 23.8 percent, followed by breast cancer at 15.4 percent and bladder cancer at 6.9 percent.