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Caught in time

BY KAREN ANN MONSY
Cancer is curable today. Ask any cancer patient and he'll be at a loss to describe how those four words mean more than just music to his ears. As appalling numbers of those inflicted with the dreaded 'C' word rocket sky high, the above words don't require much of an imagination to figure out why many would barter their worlds just for news of a cure.

But instead too many are told the same line: if only it had been detected sooner. For the past three years, Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences has been proclaiming this very good news: that hope exists, after all. It was founded with the view to bringing the latest biotechnological products to the Middle East from world leaders in the field of diagnostic and pre-diagnostics. After interacting with clients having health concerns of diverse natures, Dr Sanjida Ahmed, Director of Research at Eastern Biotech finds herself urging everyone, especially those above 40 years of age, to screen themselves for cancer annually and thus, impede what could otherwise turn out to be a long, drawn out battle for time.

Too many people rest secure in the false conviction that cancer happens to everyone around but themselves. "This is absolutely untrue," she cautions. "In the case of lung cancer, for example, it isn't just smokers or those with a family history of the disease who run the risk. If you're a passive smoker, your chances of developing lung cancer are equal to that of a smoker!"

"We generally recommend clients for two different panels: the early detection panel and the predictive genetic testing panel," says Dr Sanjida. What sets their work apart from the rest is that their early detection panel is able to detect the presence of cancer in a person before clinical signs even begin to appear. This panel consists of biochemical tests that employ tumor markers. "Simply put, tumor markers are substances that enter the blood in relation to originating cancer. Mammograms detect the cancer when it has grown up to 1-2 cms in size but tumor markers can detect cancer even without the presence of any lumps."

Having done her PhD in cell biology, Dr Sanjida's explanation of the various tests available might leave the layman reeling but in effect, her message is simple: Early screening makes for lesser sleepless nights. "We had two clients whose tests showed a slightly higher probability than normal. We immediately cautioned them and referred them to the respective oncologists." Undeniably, such fast action can only work in one's favor. She names the CancerSafe test as being in primary demand but in addition, Eastern Biotech's tests range from detecting cardiovascular diseases to predicting what diseases one is likely to develop in the future.

Just because the danger is temporarily invisible, it doesn't reduce the potential threat any less than failure to sight an oncoming car reduces one's chances of getting hit. Standing firmly by the old adage that prevention is better than cure, she illustrates, "If a person has a family history of cancer, we can determine the potential for him to contract it and suggest the necessary precautions. Of course, we may not be able to prevent the disease altogether, but one can definitely delay the onset of the disease through lifestyle management," she states, with conviction. "We try to delay the whole process."

On an interesting note, Dr Sanjida observes that "unlike Western countries, "preventive" awareness has yet to develop in the region. The clients who approach us come in more for detection tests rather than preventive tests. Detection and preventive tests are equally important but in the interests of the public, Eastern Biotech places special emphasis on the need for prevention of diseases and not just its detection."

Studies have found genetic disorders to be the most prevalent in the region. The primary cause for this recorded phenomenon has been attributed to consanguinity (cousin marriage) as the probability of offspring having genetic disorders is automatically much higher. It is this lack of awareness, says Dr Sanjida, which Eastern Biotech is working so hard to change in the region.

Right from its inception in the UAE in 2005, Eastern Biotech asserts their constant role in educating the public against diseases they're most likely to contract. "Besides events we arrange, we're in negotiations with the Ministry to work alongside them wherever they host their conferences. We've been able to contact several hospitals and inform doctors of the various tests available and the response has been positive. We're also targeting university students directly by visiting campuses and spreading the word," she says, listing out the different initiatives being undertaken.

Although this good news comes at what some may consider a hefty price, where health is concerned, many choose not to compromise. The unspoken question is a hard one to counter: Without health, what is wealth?

Source: Gulf Today
Posted: 11/07/2008


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