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Rising Cancer Rates in Saudi Arabia: How Clinicians Can Increase Awareness

Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has one of the lowest incidences of cancer worldwide, rates are currently on the rise. The prevalence of certain cancers has increased by 300 percent nationwide, a change researchers are attributing to widespread lifestyle changes

Experts predict that cancer rates in Saudi Arabia will double by 2030. As a clinician, you can help raise cancer awareness by discussing risks and symptoms with patients.

Lesser-Known Risk Factors

Without a robust cancer prevention system nationwide, many Saudi patients are unaware of significant cancer risks. These are three of the most important to educate on.


There is a strong connection between obesity and many cancer types. WHO data shows that one in three people in KSA is obese, while 68.2 percent are overweight. These rates are largely due to a dramatic increase in salt, fat, and sugar consumption across the region. 

Low Dietary Fibre Intake

A diet heavier in salt and fat may also be lower in fibre. Unfortunately, a reduced fiber intake may increase a person’s risk of colorectal cancer

Increasingly Sedentary Lifestyles

Physical inactivity contributes to cancer development and obesity. According to the WHO, 25 percent of men and nearly 40 percent of women in the Middle East are insufficiently active. Among adolescents, 85 percent of boys and 90 percent of girls lack enough exercise.

Hepatitis B

Patients with hepatitis B (HBV) have a 25 percent to 40 percent chance of developing liver cancer. Worldwide, HBV infection causes 54 percent of liver cancers.

HBV is widespread in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East. Yet, only 20 percent of Saudis report knowing how the disease spreads or how to prevent it. 

Patients need to understand the connection between HBV and cancer to keep themselves safe.

Early Warning Signs

Because cancer rates in KSA have been historically low, universal cancer screenings are not widespread. By identifying the following warning signs and educating patients about them, clinicians can help more patients receive timely treatment.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Significant weight loss is a reliable warning sign for several cancers. It is a reliable enough marker to warrant clinical follow-up, particularly when the picture includes other symptoms. 

Change in Bowel Habits

An unexplained change in bowel habits, including new and persistent diarrhea or constipation, may be a sign of colorectal cancer. The risk is higher for patients with other risk factors, particularly if the patient is under 55.

Clinicians should encourage patients to be aware of such changes and bring them to their doctor’s attention, especially when the person is 55 or older.

Unusual Bleeding

Unexplained blood loss is a potential sign of many kinds of cancer, including uterine cancer and blood cancers. Rectal bleeding, in particular, is a possible predictor of colorectal cancer. All patients should know to seek medical advice if they have unexpected bleeding.

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