Around 1,000 OFWs diagnosed with cancer in UAE every year – doctors
DUBAI, UAE – Every year, as many as 1,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the UAE are being diagnosed with cancer, doctors told The Filipino Times.
Recent cases include one who died of advance cancer of the lower uterus, and another one who died of breast cancer that had spread to multiple organs, according to Dr Balaji Balasubramanian, consultant surgical oncologist at NMC Hospital in Abu Dhabi who also sits on the European Board of Surgery as diplomate and examiner.
“Both did not want to go back to the Philippines till the end,” Balasubramanian said.
Breast cancer for women, lung cancer for men top the list
Dr Mohanad Diab, head of medical oncology at NMC Hospital in Abu Dhabi who also oversees patients in Dubai, Al Ain, and Sharjah, said that "there are about 4,500 new cases” of cancer in the UAE yearly.
“There is no precise data about the exact number per nationality, but we can say there are about 1,000 of Philippine origin,” Diab said.
The most common types, said Diab, are breast cancer among women, followed by lungs, liver, cervix, thyroid, rectum and ovary, in that order.
For males, he said, number one is cancer of the lung, followed by liver, prostate, colon, rectum, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which attacks the body’s immune system by destroying white blood cells. This is followed by cancer of the nasopharynx, which involves the upper part of the pharynx, and stomach cancer
“Most cases are in advance stage,” Diab said.
Balasubramanian said Filipina breast cancer patients are notably young, between 30 and 45 years old, compared to the global average age for the disease.
“I personally feel that many of them are too young to have acquired breast cancer,” Balasubramanian said.
The cancer specialist said that most of the time, cases of breast cancers among Filipinas are detected in its early or intermediate stages.
Diab echoed this, saying most cancer cases are registered in the young generation.
The burden of working abroad
Working away from home and loved ones – with the emotional and psychological stress it entails – "may play a role" in getting the dreaded disease, doctors shared.
“It definitely may play a role. We usually speak of cancer as a multi-factorial disease,” said Dr Arun Warrier, consultant at Aster Hospital’s oncology department.
“People who live away from home have sedentary and erratic lifestyles, which predispose them to all sorts of diseases, including cancer. Late marriage, obesity, fatty diet are all risk factors in such a migrant population,” he explained.
Added Dr Rebecca Oandasan-Desiderio, The Medical City Dubai CEO: “Sadness and stress will always cause negative effects on the total well-being of an individual and when that happens, the immune system also has lesser capability to fight disease and thus the person gets prone to ailments.”
She said people in these circumstances “can develop certain behavioral practices such as smoking, alcohol consumption, overeating, and having not enough rest, which all can cause an increased risk of cancer.”
There are about one million OFWs in the UAE, according to official statistics. Having 1,000 of them diagnosed with cancer at an annual rate is a cause for concern, experts said.
All over the world, approximately 200 people in every population of 100,000 are diagnosed with cancer, Warrier said.
“One has to remember that two-thirds of all cancer cases are diagnosed in their 60s; and having 1,000 cases in a young, working, immigrant population (of OFWs) may still be above the projected numbers,” Warrier explained.
He said a breakdown of the age affected and types of cancer among Filipinos will help to put things in perspective.
“It is indeed alarming to see and diagnose Filipinos at a young age with advanced cancer,” for his part, said Professor Dr Iyad Hassan, consultant and head of general, endocrine and cancer surgery at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
“Interestingly, we see an increase in pancreatic and thyroid cancer cases in Filipino demographics,” said Hassan, adding that this year alone, he treated four Filipinos – two males and two females – with neuro-endocrine tumors of the pancreas, aged 27 to 42.
Hassan said he finds the cases “very unusual, because this kind of cancer is a disease of old and aged persons.”
“But what’s more alarming,” he also stressed, “is that, Filipino patients who were diagnosed with thyroid cancer are already in their advanced stages when they consulted me.”
Hassan said he has gathered and analyzed his clinical data of cancer patients and found that majority of them are Filipinos.
Putting it on a global scale, Warrier said breast cancer is the most common cancer among females and prostate cancer among men. “Lung cancer rates are also high due to smoking. Hepatitis infection and alcoholism leading to cirrhosis are main causes of liver cancer,” he said.
Balasubramania said the patients “rarely need financial assistance” as they are covered by medical insurance and “very, rarely they have risk of losing the job” because of government-employer support programs.
“In cases where the insurance does not cover, we assist the patients in getting financial assistance from charitable organizations like Red Crescent, Friends of Cancer (patients) and other philanthropists,” Balasubramanian said, adding that they also work on having concessions with the hospital management and assistance from the employer.
Diab also offered this proposal: “If each Filipino in UAE will pay Dh20 per year to the embassy for cancer treatment, it will be a huge amount and can cover any Filipino who needs a treatment financial support.”
Balasubramanian said Filipino patients in their hospital are “very cooperative and doing well.”
“I am very comfortable in treating Filipino cancer patients. They are reasonably motivated well. They follow as per guidance and make us comfortable in getting the best result,” he said.
Diab said the largest number of their cancer patients are Filipinos. “In many instances, we provide them services and treatments free of charge,” he said.
‘Worried about losing jobs'
Meanwhile, many Filipino patients who are diagnosed with cancer are seeing doctors in the late stages of their conditions, said Dr Iyad Hassan, consultant and head of general, endocrine, and cancer surgery at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
“Most of them worry about their jobs more than they worry about their health,” he lamented.
This, he said, explains why there is a high probability that they do not complete the whole treatment procedure.
He said it is important to remember that cancer treatment is multimodal and cannot be treated by surgery alone. Regular follow-up consultation with doctors, regular tests, and compliance with the treatment plan are mandatory in order to fully treat the condition. – Rappler.com
This story was republished with permission from The Filipino Times of the United Arab Emirates.