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Oncologist: Women run greater advanced cancer risk due to waiting

A leading international oncology and hematology specialist is urging medical practitioners in The Bahamas to persuade patients to act immediately on early signs of breast cancer, noting that many women are adept at avoiding follow-up scans and exams, leaving themselves vulnerable to more advanced stage cancers that are harder to treat.

Dr. Zeina Nahleh, who serves in a dual capacity as chair of the Department of Hematology-Oncology and director of the Cleveland Clinic Florida Maroone Cancer Center, ranked among the best in the nation, made the comments while addressing the Grand Bahama Medical Conference in Freeport, on February 23.

“Indicators that the medical community recognizes but patients often do not include hereditary factors, the likelihood of diagnosis before the age of 50, and whether or not there is Eastern European or Jewish descent,” said Nahleh. “Understanding the increased genetic risk enables you to evaluate your options in advance.”

Along with heritage and family medical history, research continues to reaffirm that lifestyle plays a critical role. Excessive alcohol consumption, a poor diet heavy on processed or fast foods and obesity contribute to the likelihood of cancer, and part of the greatest concern is the young age at which Bahamian women experience the disease.

According to Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands, black women in The Bahamas are diagnosed with breast cancer two decades earlier and usually two stages later than most women elsewhere in the world.

That is one of the reasons Nahleh pressed the importance of paying attention to the first sign of a lump, fatigue, insomnia or loss of appetite, and follow through when a medical professional recommends further tests.

She said that sadly, too many women who could have caught their cancer earlier and improved their chances of remission or full recovery, wait. She said they “lack seriousness” or do not have enough faith in the exams, and they often do not go back for a suggested scan, because their previous scan showed nothing, so why go again. She said many also had concerns with costs, insurance, and scan issues.

“But the most important thing they need to realize is the sooner the detection the easier the cure,” said the specialist, a certified principal investigator (CPI) by the Academy of Clinical Research Professionals.

Even when a patient presents with advanced stage breast or other cancer, Cleveland Clinic Florida handles the case on a team basis, said Nahleh, who herself leads a multi-disciplinary team of cancer specialists including surgeons, hematologists and radiation oncologists, treating patients with solid tumors and hematologic malignancies.

“We are a team-based cancer center so you have a medical doctor, surgeon, plastic surgeon, the whole team working together, and many times we can do a one-day appointment through one of our international coordinators. We also look at the therapy — including for the family, before and most importantly, after the initial treatment or surgery.”

Cleveland Clinic Florida has long been a go-to medical facility for Bahamians. Physicians, surgeons and specialists work closely with the Bahamian medical community, lending patient support, discussing results and treatment options, knowing many patients prefer to be close to home as much as possible and treatment that may take place in Weston, Florida, may require follow-through once the patient is back in The Bahamas. The facility also notes that some of the most sophisticated diagnostic and surgical medical equipment costs in the seven figures and would not be feasible or a practical expense for any nation with a small clinical population.



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