By Nawara Fattahova

KUWAIT: The coronavirus pandemic has had a severe impact on cancer patients, since they are considered a high-risk category if they get infected by the virus. Many patients don’t go to hospital for regular checkups or treatment due to the fear of getting infected.

Cancer Aware Nation Campaign (CAN) organized a virtual workshop on ‘Cancer During the Time of Coronavirus’ on Tuesday, as part of its breast cancer awareness campaign. Dr Khaled Al-Saleh, Chairman of Kuwait Society for Preventing Smoking and Cancer (KSSCP) and the Chairman of CAN, said awareness shouldn’t stop because of the pandemic.

“Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women around the world. In 2018, around 2.1 million cases were registered globally, which represents 24.2 percent of total tumors in women around the world. It also ranked first among women in Kuwait. In 2016, we registered 621 cases of breast cancer in Kuwait. The incidence of breast cancer among Kuwaiti women reached 63.6 for every 100,000, and 41.7 among non-Kuwaiti women,” Dr Saleh said during the workshop.

These numbers show the importance of continuing to fight cancer in general, and breast cancer in particular. “It’s easy to discover in the early phase, when its initial signs can be recognized. This can be achieved through systematically training women on early detection of this tumor,” he added.

“Early detection increases chances of treatment. Self-examination can be done with easy instructions, so women can avoid pain or treatments in the future. During the COVID-19 pandemic, self-examination is the best way of checking. If a woman finds something, she can contact the doctor,” Saleh concluded.

Prof Samia Al-Amoudi, Founder of the Health Empowerment Initiative at the College of Medicine, King Abdulaziz University, spoke about health empowerment and the importance of informing cancer patients of their health and labor rights. “The cancer patient should be fully aware of their health condition and receive all information about their illness. The patient has the right to keep their job and the right to keep their illness private from their workplace, which doesn’t have to know the details of their illness,” she said.

“The doctor should preserve the patient’s right to have children if the patient is undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy or hormonal therapy. This can be done by freezing the eggs before starting any therapy that weakens childbearing ability,” explained Amoudi.

According to her, treating cancer is more important than fears of getting infected by the coronavirus. “A cancer patient should not abandon their treatment because of such fears. Only the treating doctor can decide whether a patient can wait and postpone the treatment. If any patient feels symptoms of COVID-19, they can follow up with their clinic though the hotline,” she added.

Dr Amaal Al-Yahya, National Tobacco Control Liaison Officer at the Ministry of Health, spoke about e-cigarettes and smoking in general. “Some smokers claim that smoking electronic cigarettes or pipes helps in quitting smoking, which is completely wrong. Statistics show that those smoking e-cigarettes end up smoking both regular and electronic cigarettes,” she noted.

“All kinds of smoking are responsible for various diseases. It destroys the special cells of the immunity system, which are responsible for quickly responding to microbes that enter the body. Smoking increases the potential of catching COVID-19 and experiencing symptoms.

Also, smoking electronic cigarettes increases the intensity of the resulting inflammation in the lung tissue, and this damages the respiratory system. Furthermore, smoking electronic cigarettes affects people nearby, as the vapor produced by this cigarette contains many carcinogenic and harmful materials,” stressed Yahya.