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The hidden suffering of women with breast cancer in Gaza

A new article published in ecancermedicalscience reveals the hidden stories of breast cancer patients in Gaza in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and the indignities they suffer on a daily basis due to the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

The continuing violence in Gaza has dramatically influenced diagnosis, access to treatment and survival outcomes for women with breast cancer in the oPt. 

There is a widespread lack of even the most basic treatments for breast cancer – specialised surgery, radiotherapy (which is not available at all), systemic therapies and pathology/imaging.

Gaza is home to approximately two million people and breast cancer was the third largest cause of cancer mortality in 2018 in the oPt at 12%, after lung cancer (20%) and colon cancer (13%).

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) a more than 150% rise in breast cancer mortality is expected by 2040. This rising cancer burden will increase demands for infrastructure for pathology and drug delivery, and trained health staff accordingly.

The article explores the obstacles women with breast cancer in Gaza must face, including the significant social and cultural stigma associated with the disease which is exacerbated by the prolonged waiting periods they must endure before they are granted permits to leave Gaza and seek urgent treatment elsewhere.

There have been increasing restrictions on medical exit permits by Israel, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) documenting that there was a 180% increase in the number of medical exit permits denied by Israeli authorities in 2018 compared to 2017.

Many women die while waiting for their travel permits to be granted.

Even when they are given permission to travel, women are sometimes forced to travel alone when Israel refuses to approve exit permits for relatives to accompany them during their treatment periods.

This affects both mental health and treatment outcomes as patients are isolated from their children and families for many weeks at a time.

The article published in ecancermedicalscience provides crucial context to this situation and explores several avenues relating to policy, research, training and education to improve patient outcomes and tackle the rising incidence of breast cancer in Gaza.

The author, Shaymaa AlWaheidi from King’s College London, says:

“I hope that this paper inspires governmental policymakers and international organisations to stop offering quick fixes e.g. new machines instead of sustainable training opportunities, self-sufficiency and the basic healthcare facilities needed by women in the occupied Palestinian territory, such as encouraging women to seek prompt diagnosis when they notice any change in their breasts and supporting infrastructure for pathology services and regular chemotherapy delivery.

This is a human rights issue which deserves much greater awareness among policymakers, otherwise women in Gaza will continue dying unnecessarily from breast cancer, at a time when women in many countries are seeing increasing rates of survival.”

Link: https://ecancer.org/en/journal/article/964-breast-cancer-in-gaza-a-public-health-priority-in-search-of-reliable-data

Citation information: Breast cancer in Gaza—a public health priority in search of reliable data AlWaheidi S (2019) ecancermedicalscience 13 964

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3332/ecancer.2019.964



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