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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

No taboo in health: The Teal Society’s mission to get Qatar talking about gynaecological cancer


The annual mortality rate per 100,000 people from ovarian cancer in the MENA region has increased by 20.1% between 1990 and 2018.

“Don’t neglect your health” – this is the message that The Teal Society wants to deliver to women around the world, particularly in Qatar.

Founded by Nicole Alexander in Los Angeles, The Teal Society is a non-profit organisation that has taken its mission to raise awareness about gynaecological cancers among women to the Gulf state since at least March last year.

For Alexander, the mission is personal. She launched the organisation after losing her mother to vaginal cancer, the rarest of all gynaecological cancers.

“At the time we were not informed about this disease and how it works as a whole. So, shortly after her passing away, I decided to educate our family first on the topic, as well as spreading awareness to our local community too and it just developed from there,” Alexander told Doha News.

Alexander [The Teal Society]
After seeing a positive impact in her home city of LA, Alexander decided to expand to the other side of the world, where there is a clear lack of awareness on the disease among both genders.

“The thing is, it’s important to raise awareness for both men and women. Men to know what women go through and be clued-up on the process of early detection and elimination as well as the therapy and fighting it,” she said.

Gynaecological cancer affects women’s reproductive organs and has five main types, including: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar.

Cervical cancer occurs among women over 40 years of age and is known as the “silent killer” as its symptoms are less severe than others, which come in either irregular discharge or menstrual bleeding.

In 2020, an estimated 604,237 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer around the world and at least 341,843 women died.

According to The National Foundation for Cancer Research, the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the leading cause of this disease. Despite this, it is the most preventable type of cancer if women conduct annual screenings and routine check-ups.

On the other hand, ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer but also the most lethal. This type rarely causes symptoms in its early stages and is often later detected when it spreads to the pelvis and abdomen.

Research by Jan Lawry, Director of J Lawry Healthcare Management Ltd, notes the annual mortality rate per 100,000 people from ovarian cancer in the MENA region increased by 20.1% between 1990 to 2018 at an average of 0.9% a year.

Uterine cancer is the most common type and often occurs after menopause, with a total 417,367 cases reported worldwide last year.

The two most rare gynaecological cancers are vulvar, which represents 5% of the remaining types, and vaginal cancer, though the latter has high survival rates.

With all these posing a fatal threat to the lives of women, and with a vast gap in knowledge, The Teal Society has stepped in to play an active role in educating society about the diseases.

Alexander [The Teal Society]
“The community of Qatar is starting to be receptive to this as it’s a sensitive topic. We’re proud to have started this much-needed conversation and awareness,” she said.

In addition to seminars with senior gynaecologists and oncologists, as well as afternoon teas to discuss prevention methods with guests like Dr Afaf Al Ansari, a pioneer of minimal access gynaecologic oncology surgery and the first gynaecologic oncology consultant in Qatar, the NGO also directly talks to courageous patients who opt to share their personal battles with the hope of educating the masses.

These stories are shared on social media as part of a “Teal Tuesday’s” series.

“Words will never be enough to comfort anyone going through this but what we do say to those who are fighting this is that we are here and ready to support in whichever way we can. You’re not alone,” said Alexander.

While work by such organisations is paramount in raising awareness around the world, Alexander believes its crucial for each community to actively engage in the conversation to shed all existing taboo surrounding women’s health.

“Women and girls shouldn’t be afraid. Qatar offers a plethora of services for women’s reproductive health, we should seek guidance from the experts available,” she said, urging women to get regular screenings.

Read also: PCOS: All you need to know

Alexander said such preventative measures could include HPV vaccinations, or pelvic ultrasound to detect possible abnormalities.

Doctors also advise women and girls to maintain a healthy lifestyle, speak to medics if they notice any abnormalities, and to consider genetic counselling as some diseases can be inherited.

“Don’t neglect your health. Just as it’s important to maintain your physique, it’s vital to take care of your reproductive health as well. A simple screening could save lives,” she said.

Beyond education, building a tight-knit support system remains a core part of The Teal Society, which seeks to support all women across various aspects.

“A huge part of our organisation is aimed at building these intimate communities to support one another in whichever way, shape or form we can.  Support is necessary,” said Alexander.

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