National Cancer Institution: Major steps taken on breast cancer and leukemia

Ingy Deif, Thursday 4 Apr 2013

The national cancer institution Celebrating its 45th anniversary, highlights breakthroughs on breast cancer and leukemia treatment

NCI conference Egypt

On 2 April, Egypt's National Cancer Institution (NCI) held a conference shedding light on milestones reached in the treatment of two of the most deadly forms of cancer: breast cancer and leukemia.

One of the highlights was marked by the words of Dr Hossam Kamel, president of Cairo University, who said leukemia was one of the worst illnesses known, taking scores of lives every year. But now, the percentage of patients cured has reached 70 percent.

Kamal explained that the average age of diagnosing leukemia is around 40, with an occurrence of 1.5 per 100,000 persons a year. The cancer starts in the cells of the bone marrow, then spreads to other parts of the body through blood.

Kamal then moved on to explain that before 2000 there was no medication and the only option was a risky stem cell transplant. After 2000, came two generations of "targeted medication" — the first being a ray of hope, the second the chance of a cure.

In response to Ahram Online asking about the availability of these rather expensive medications for underprivileged sectors of society, Kamal stressed that the cost of the medications is hugely reduced, partly by the government and the NCI, and partly through sponsorships by multinational companies and the private sector, within the framework of corporate social responsibility.

He added that this partnership was not affected by the January 25 Revolution.

Less side effects, more awareness

Dr Tarek Shouman, head of the radiology department at the NCI, said that breast cancer will always be a priority, because it is the most common form of cancer worldwide, affecting one million women annually. In Egypt, its percentage exceeds 35 percent of all cancers.

Confirming the words of Shouman, Dr Alaa El-Haddad, dean of the NCI, said that one in every five cases in the institution is treated for breast cancer. Some 80 percent are treated for free. El-Haddad said that the NCI had constructed external clinics and treatment facilities recently to accommodate the ever-increasing flow of patients.

El-Haddad added that a new breast cancer hospital dedicated to the treatment of all Egyptians of all ages for free will be inaugurated in July in El-Tagammo El-Awwal district, with another to be constructed in El-Sheikh Zayed district, asking the media to help boost donations — which account for almost 70 percent of the expenditure — for these facilities though the bank account #777 in all branches of the National Bank of Egypt, in addition to a new account for the new premises with the number of 500500.

The social stigma associated with cancer and its negative implications were underlined by Dr Rabab Gaafar, professor of oncology, who warned that the percentage of cured cases will decline if women remain unaware of the importance of early detection.

"In cases of early detection, the cure rate reaches 90 percent. But the problem is that currently the number of cases detected at an  advanced stage is double those at an early stage," she said, adding that a new drug approved by the FDA and the EU for breast cancer treatment is good news, as it has fewer side effects, such as hair loss, which helps encourage women to seek treatment.

Gaafar added that this medication, which goes under the name Afinitor, reverses the resistance that some women develop to some therapies, enabling them to work again.

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