In Saudi Arabia, cancer is highly prevalent and a leading cause of premature death. The World Health Organization reported 24,485 new cases of the disease in 2018 in the Kingdom.

We started working with our partner Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare (JHAH) in May 2016 to expand its oncology services and enhance its radiotherapy services. Below are some recent examples of how we are working together to lead the way in diagnosing and treating breast, thyroid and colon cancers — the most common types in Saudi Arabia.

Breast Cancer
Globally, breast cancer remains the most prevalent form of the disease among women, as aging populations and factors such as obesity take their toll. In Saudi Arabia, breast cancer incidence rose 49% between 2008 and 2017.

Mehran Habibi, medical director of the Johns Hopkins Breast Center, has steadfastly supported JHAH along its journey to improve detection rates and introduce cutting-edge therapies for treating breast cancer. He returned to JHAH recently to provide direct patient care and share his expert counsel with colleagues in Dhahran.

During his weeklong clinical rotation, Dr. Habibi performed eight breast surgeries — including mastectomies, a breast lumpectomy and a highly targeted lymph node biopsy. He conducted daily inpatient rounds, provided six outpatient consultations and participated in eight multidisciplinary case reviews.

Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is now considered the fastest-growing human cancer in terms of incidence, as reported in the International Journal of Endocrinology. In Saudi Arabia, new cases of thyroid cancer increased 26-fold between 1990 and 2016.

The prognosis is excellent, especially for younger patients and those with small cancers. And the prognosis remains very good for older patients, or those with larger or more aggressive tumors, according to Wojtek Mydlarz, director of Johns Hopkins Head and Neck Surgery for the National Capital  Region.

Dr. Mydlarz recently completed a clinical rotation at JHAH and provided the high quality of surgical care that supports those promising odds.

He treated three JHAH patients with thyroid cancer, opting for surgeries with proven track records for best outcomes. He performed two thyroidectomies — the surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid gland, which has a long, safe history of eliminating cancerous tumors that can spread and turn deadly. He also performed a parotidectomy, the removal of the largest of the salivary glands, the recommended treatment for all cancers in the parotid gland.

Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Saudi males and third in females, with nearly 75% of all cases diagnosed at late stage. The disease forecast is also concerning: Environmental factors attributed to increasing colorectal cancer incidence rates ― including red meat consumption, sedentary lifestyle and increased calorie intake ― are on the rise in the Kingdom.

Recognizing this disease may likely burden the Saudi health care system for decades to come, Adrian Murphy, a JHM assistant professor of oncology, recently presented a community outreach lecture titled “New Ways to Fight Colorectal Cancer” to an audience of more than 80 at JHAH.

Currently, surgical removal is the most common treatment for many stages of colorectal cancer, while treatment for patients in advanced stages may also include radiation, chemotherapy or targeted therapy. Researchers like Dr. Murphy are studying and testing new treatments, as well as new combinations of existing treatments.

In his talk, Dr. Murphy discussed the potential of treatments such as immunotherapy and checkpoint inhibitors. These therapies are coming to the forefront of cancer care because they are generally less toxic and easier to take than most chemotherapy drugs, providing more favorable responses and effective outcomes for patients.

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