Saudi Arabia: Technology is revolutionizing breast cancer diagnosis and treatment

According to the World Health Organization, there were 2.3 million new cases of breast cancer and 685,000 deaths in 2020. By the end of that year, 7.8 million women had been diagnosed in the last five years, making it the most common cancer in the world.

Over the past three decades, the number of breast cancer diagnoses has increased, primarily due to increased use of screening, early detection, and better general public awareness of self-monitoring and reporting. .

In Saudi Arabia, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women over the age of 40. However, more than 50% of cases are detected at a late stage, compared to 20% in Western countries, meaning the Kingdom has a higher death rate.

Riyadh’s Kingdom Center skyscraper is lit up in pink every October (Photo, Shutterstock).

In most cases, breast cancer has no clear symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms usually do not appear until after the tumor has started to grow. But, if detected early, the average cure rate can be as high as 96%.

Several factors are associated with late diagnosis. These include age, lack of awareness of self-examination and symptoms, social taboos, fear of stigma, and the effectiveness of public health campaigns.

According to a recent study, titledBreast cancer stage migration in Saudi Arabia: Examining the influence of screening(“Breast Cancer Stage Migration in Saudi Arabia: Examining the Influence of Screening”), published in the Global Journal on Quality and Safety in Healthcare2,463 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in the Kingdom between January and December 2017.

The study found that breast cancer accounted for 17.7% of all cancers reported among Saudi citizens, and 30.9% of all cancers recorded among women of all ages.

However, the study also showed that the rate of diagnosis had increased fivefold over a period of seventeen years, which could be attributed to improved breast cancer awareness and screening programs in the Kingdom. .

“A nationwide screening program in the Kingdom was launched in 2012 and targeted women over 40, ten years younger than those in Western countries,” he told Arab News Dr. Timor al-Alchee, breast oncology consultant at King Faisal Specialty Hospital and Research Center in Jeddah.

“While we don’t know the reasons for early detection in the Kingdom per se, public health awareness campaigns have immensely changed the way the community sees and understands the disease, but we still have a long way to go. and efforts are made to increase awareness each year. But that’s still not enough.”

Dr. Timor al-Alchee (Photo provided).

Al-Alchee said more women are getting regular mammograms, especially those with a family history of breast cancer.

“When it comes to breast cancer, the consequences of late detection are no secret. What makes people more comfortable with their diagnosis today is that cutting-edge medicine has recognized that there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” Al-Alchee explained.

“Today we have the tools to customize a treatment plan and it all starts with a mammogram.”

Mammography is one of the greatest innovations in the management of breast cancer, as it is the only screening technology that tangibly reduces the mortality rate of breast cancer and is an essential tool for the detection breast cancer.

Today, breakthroughs in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer through new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), are further improving care.

Almost two years ago, the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) began investigating the integration of AI into breast cancer screening and has since created a system solution for AI capable of analyzing mammogram images and detecting abnormalities in scans.

In coordination with the Saudi Ministry of Health, SDAIA launched the first phase of the AI ​​system at the Global AI Summit in Riyadh last September.

The system can triage routine mammography exams with a high degree of sensitivity, to aid radiologists and oncologists in detecting malignancies.

With an all-Saudi team, 70% women, SDAIA cooperated with specialists to validate the results and ensure that the AI ​​system is integrable and can be quickly adopted in all systems.

“In its initial phase, the AI ​​system is used in cooperation and is limited to two entities: The national breast cancer detection program under the Ministry of Health and the virtual hospital of Seha,” said declared the SDAIA to Arab News.

Saudi schoolgirls dressed in pink as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month activities (Photo, AN/Huda Bashatah).

“We are looking to make the system accessible nationally, which will require improvements to further develop it with the help of local partners. The system is currently operating on the screening phase and we are working to add other functions to help national efforts to screen 4 million women (over the age of 40) in the Kingdom.”

Mammograms acquired through population-based breast cancer screening programs, such as the National Breast Cancer Detection Program in Saudi Arabia, can represent a significant workload for radiologists.

Health care providers typically meet to discuss cancer cases and evaluate information to determine a diagnosis, the best treatment, and a care plan for each patient. This process can take several weeks.

“We are looking at a ratio of 80:20, where 80% of cases can be ruled out by the same and the remaining 20% ​​will eventually be the primary focus of doctors,” the Saudi Data and AI Authority said.

With the AI ​​model system, the scouting time will be significantly reduced, and with the additional improvements and developments provided by domestic developers, additional features can be added to the system to increase innovation.

“By coordinating with specialists, we train the algorithms so that they can, for example, detect pathologically proven cancers by mimicking human behaviors and practices. We use screening data, diagnostic data, surveys, etc. to train the system. The accuracy of AI should exceed that of radiologists in some cases,” the SDAIA said.

Tissue density is a common concern for screening efficiency. Women with dense tissue have a higher risk of misdiagnosing breast cancer, making it harder for radiologists to see the cancer on mammograms.

According to a 2020 article published in the medical journal European Radiology22% of cancers detected by screening are missed, based on a review of previous screening mammograms with diagnostic images.

“Breast density makes the screening test a bit more difficult for radiologists and especially for women under 50. They can be called back for follow-up,” Al-Alchee said. “The difference between screening today and that of a decade ago is the advancement in technology that makes it possible to interpret digital mammograms.

“Progress also includes the development of individual treatment plans with less aggressive side effects such as targeted therapies to block the growth of breast cancer cells, new therapeutic approaches in surgeries such as conservative mastectomies for aesthetic satisfaction breast cancer patients coupled with oncological safety, and many other advances thanks to modern medicine,” he added.

Beyond detection, emerging technologies are also radically improving breast cancer care. The expansion of targeted therapies has increased treatment options for patients, while new areas of research ranging from immunotherapies to vaccines and recurrence prevention are being explored.

“Our vision is clear. We want to save lives,” Al-Alchee said. “When a patient receives a confirmed diagnosis at an early stage, she will find the best treatment in the comfort of her home, surrounded by her loved ones, and with a very supportive ecosystem.”

“The earlier the diagnosis, the greater the chances of overcoming the cancer. Combined with current technological advancements, the success rate will be even higher.”

This text is the translation of an article published on

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