With one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, it is the most common cancer affecting women worldwide. Dr. Salha Bujassoum, Senior Consultant at the National Center for Cancer Care and Research (NCCCR) says Breast Cancer Awareness Month provides an opportune time to remind women about the importance of beginning regular breast cancer screening from the age of 45.
Dr. Bujassoum, who is also Director of the Hereditary Cancer and High-Risk Screening Program, said there are a number of genetic and environmental or lifestyle factors that can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. She says the team at NCCCR’s High-Risk Breast Screening and Genetics Program assessed over 800 patients last year and she notes that the service helps women understand their cancer risk based on a number of factors, including age, personal health history, and genetic or family history. Dr. Bujassoum says the High-Risk Breast Screening and Genetics Program provides genetic counseling and testing services to patients who are concerned about their hereditary cancer risk because of a personal and/or family history.
“Genetic counseling can be very helpful for those who have a strong family history of breast cancer. Evaluations are carried out by a specialist board-certified genetic counselor and this specialist can help assess an individual’s lifetime risk of developing cancer,” said Dr. Bujassoum.
Dr. Bujassoum noted that the Hereditary Cancer and High-Risk Screening Program is the first of its kind in the region. Genetic testing is performed through the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory, with some tests being sent abroad for analysis. Based on the patient’s individual risk assessment, appropriate counseling, testing and prevention measures are offered to reduce the likelihood and incidence of breast and other types of cancer.
“Our multidisciplinary and collaborative approach sees a team of specialists, which includes genetic counselors, psychologists, surgeons, and medical oncologists, working together to develop the best plan of care for each and every patient. After their assessment, our team discusses risk-reducing strategies with the patient. This can include prophylactic surgery (surgery as a preventive measure) and chemoprevention (use of medication to lower the risk or prevent cancer). Our team also talks with patients about prevention strategies that can help reduce their cancer risk,” added Dr. Reem Jawad Al Sulaiman, a Certified Genetic Counsellor at NCCCR.
The Hereditary Cancer and High-Risk Screening Program is an example of a multidisciplinary service that aims to achieve excellence in cancer care through offering prevention and personalized medicine and supports the National Cancer Framework 2017-2022 ‘Achieving Excellence in Cancer Care: A vision for 2022’. This program is the first of its kind in the Middle East and has positioned HMC as a leader and innovator in patient- and family-centered care.
“In addition to our role as cancer and genetic experts, we raise awareness about the familial and hereditary risk of breast and other types of cancers. Our ultimate goal is to provide an expert evaluation for the management of high-risk patients,” said Dr. Bujassoum.