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Breast cancer cases increase in Gaza

It has been revealed that there has been a remarkable increase in the number of breast cancer cases in the Gaza Strip. Dr. Sawsan Hammad, the Director of the Women's and Children's Health Unit, noted on Wednesday that the disease is affecting men and women, although the cases in men are still rare.

Speaking at a programme to raise awareness of the disease organised by the Ministry of Health, Dr. Hammad stressed that breast cancer continues to rise by 4 per cent each year. She pointed out that it is the most common form of cancer in Gaza, accounting for around one-third of all cancer patients.

The ministry's screening facilities, said Dr. Hammad, mean that 90 per cent of breast cancer's victims are discovered, but she stressed the importance of extending the facilities so that more women can be diagnosed and treated even sooner than now. "The earlier the diagnosis, the better the possibility is of a full recovery."

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Praising the success of the ministry's screening teams and awareness programmes, despite the withdrawal of donor funding, Dr. Hammad revealed that statistics indicate that the majority of diagnoses are made in the later stages of the disease. This complicates the treatment, so she called on all institutions to cooperate with the ministry to deliver better treatment for breast cancer patients. Older women are more at risk, she pointed out, but all women should be screened regularly and conduct self-examinations to check for signs of the disease.

The manager of the Aid and Hope programme, Eman Shanan, called on the Palestinian government to take care of cancer patients by offering them a number of free services. She said that patients go through double suffering: once when receiving the diagnosis, and again when they are "abandoned" by society. Shanan pointed out that many breast cancer patients are vulnerable to divorce and abandonment by their husbands because of the physical effects of the disease. The Aid and Hope programme, she said, helps patients to have employment, in collaboration with the Palestinian private sector and the participation of volunteers.

"We want to make breast cancer patients economically self-reliant," Shanan said, calling for more community and government support for women suffering from the disease.

Mohammed Anaq'ah, meanwhile, asked for awareness about breast cancer to be a priority and for the inclusion of information about the disease in Palestinian school and university curricula. The social programmes officer at the Ahli Arab Hospital also called on aid and social programmes to include cancer awareness as a priority item and to provide free treatment.

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Speaking on behalf of the Department of Health Awareness, Salwa Rizk called for increased coordination and intensified efforts to combat breast cancer. She cited the effectiveness of the organisation of awareness lectures and the screening a number of documentary films for thousands of students, teachers and women in mosques throughout the Gaza Strip.

Counselling for breast cancer patients is an important aspect of treatment, insisted the manager of the Body and Mind programme, who shared his experience of providing psychological support to such patients. He called for cooperation between all institutions involved in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and the Ministry of Health in order to provide accurate statistics which illustrate the impact of what the Palestinian people are suffering. He mentioned the unethical and inhuman practices of the Israeli forces during their brutal invasion of Gaza in 2008-9, including the use of banned munitions which have resulted, it is believed, in an increase in cancer diagnoses in the territory.

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