UMC Links

Middle East Cancer Researchers Visit Utah

Feb. 25, 2010 – In a region known for conflict, nuclear proliferation, peace process and Israeli-Palestinian issues, the Middle East is witnessing a death toll owed to a silent killer — cancer — that has forced friends and foes into a health diplomacy otherwise unseen in the region.

In an unprecedented gathering, experts from the Middle East will collaborate with Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) and the University of Utah (U) cancer researchers to discuss cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment in a one-day conference to take place Wednesday, March 3 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Huntsman Cancer Institute George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Auditorium. The conference, titled “Global Perspectives on Cancer,” is free and open to the public.

“There is an urgent need to explore and examine the data on cancer rates in the Middle East,” says Bahman Baktiari, director of the Middle East Center at the U. “Cancer is now the fastest growing killer in the region. Previously, diplomacy had been focused on political, military and commercial affairs and global health had been more narrowly included in a development perspective. Today the two areas have broadened to recognize the greater expanse of health issues in foreign policy and national security.”

The conference will include presentations from preeminent cancer researchers from the U and the Middle East, as well as a talk from Joe Harford, director of international affairs for the National Cancer Institute and founder of the Middle East Cancer Consortium. For a detailed schedule of the conference, visit

The Middle East covers 300 million people, with a wide social, economic and cultural diversity and spreads across 22 countries. According to Baktiari, the incidence of childhood cancers in Iraq is eight to ten times higher than in the U.S. and Western Europe.

Thirty percent of cancer patients in the Persian Gulf region are under 40 years old, compared to 5 percent in the U.S. Bladder cancer is unusually prevalent in Egypt, accounting for more than 40 percent of cancer cases in men, eight times those in the U.S.

With its extensive cancer registry, Utah’s HCI is well positioned to contribute to the conversation. Randall Burt, senior director of prevention and outreach, HCI, says, “HCI has a vested interest in reaching out to the community to provide information and collaborative ideas to help solve the problem of cancer. We have a particular interest in outreach to the Middle East where our cancer registries, in particular, could substantially inform cancer prevention and treatment issues there.”

“Cancer does not respect national boundaries, which is why people from every country must share their knowledge, resources and experience to improve diagnosis and prevention of this deadly disease,” adds Baktiari. “By bringing experts together from diverse parts of the Middle East and Utah, this meeting will be of immense contribution to our understanding and identifying unusual global cancer patterns, and planning health policy.”

As part of its support for the Oslo Peace Process, the United States led an initiative that created the Middle East Cancer Consortium (MECC). Formed in May 1996, the MECC is a project of the health ministers of Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian National Authority. It has survived several major conflicts between Israel and its neighbors, the war in Iraq and Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Gaza. In the middle of all these conflicts, the MECC seeks to improve cancer surveillance in the region, share information about the disease and train people to study and combat it.

To schedule media interviews with the conference presenters, contact Delva Hommes at 801-581-4239 or For more information on the upcoming conference or the Middle East Center at the University of Utah, visit

Video and audio of the conference will be available at