First Lady's Middle East Trip Focuses on Breast Cancer

Laura Bush and Robin Roberts met in the Middle East to discuss breast cancer.

ByABC News via logo
October 22, 2007, 7:23 AM

Oct. 22, 2007 — -- First lady Laura Bush has visited 68 countries during her husband's presidency, but in some ways, her trip to Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, may be her most urgent and personal trip yet.

Bush's trip is aimed at raising awareness in the Middle East about breast cancer a disease both her grandmother and mother had. Neither woman died of the disease Bush's mother is still alive and in good health but the first lady has worked on breast cancer issues for many years.

"I feel it's very important for people in the Middle East to know that people in the United States care about health and especially women's health, because it's still embarrassing and they're fearful and shamed like we were over 25 years ago," she told "Good Morning America."

Hala Moddelmog, president of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, said there are huge hurdles to raising cancer awareness in the region.

In Saudi Arabia, 20 percent of all cancer cases are breast cancer; in the UAE, it's nearly 10 percent.

And 70 percent of breast cancer patients are diagnosed during the advanced stages of the disease compared to just 30 percent in the West.

The problem is not one of resources the four Middle Eastern countries Bush will visit brought in $260 billion last year from oil alone.

Doctors say breast cancer still carries social stigma in the region.

"Ladies who are married are really worried about what will the effect of a diagnosis be on their husbands and families, so many of them will opt not to do a mammogram," said Omniyat Hajri, a UAE physician who treats breast cancer patients.

Many women never learn the necessity of self-breast exams and early detection important in these Middle Eastern countries, where, on average, women get breast cancer 10 years earlier when the disease is more deadly.

But many women are working to change attitudes. In Dubai, volunteers on a pink bus give out vital information on self-exams and early diagnosis.