In the midst of all the troubles in North Africa and Middle East; in the midst of all miseries, conflicts, wars, people killed, people injured, people displaced, people becoming refugees, economies going down, local currencies devaluated, living conditions getting worse, drugs becoming inaccessible, etc, etc, etc; in the midst of all that, we keep up with our medical and oncology educational and research meetings and keep up hope for the betterment of patient care and advancement of science in Arab countries.
It is with this spirit that over 500 physicians, researchers, and oncology professionals responded to the invitation by the Arab Medical Association Against Cancer (AMAAC) and Tunisian Association de Sensibisation en Oncologie Multidisciplinaire de l’Ariana (AFSOMA) and gathered in Tunis, Tunisia, and held the 18th Annual Pan-Arab Cancer Congress (PACC) 2018. Thanks to Hamouda Boussen, MD, PACC-2018 Scientific Committee Chair, Farouk Benna, MD, PACC-2018 Organizing Committee Chair, Sami Khatib, MD, PACC 2018 and AMAAC President, Atef Badran, MD, AMAAC Secretary General, and Adda Bounedjar, MD, AMAAC Vice-President, it was a wonderful conference. It was exactly like being at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Annual Meeting or the ASCO Annual Meeting except for the lack of the new international research abstracts that we expect at ESMO and ASCO.
PACC-2018 had excellent educational sessions on CNS, lung, breast, GI, GU, skin, hematologic, and other common cancers. We had Tunisian and Arab region speakers, as well as French, Swiss, German, Spanish, Australian, and American speakers. In addition, the forum was open for local researchers, especially young oncologists, to present posters and oral abstracts, particularly on aspects of cancer epidemiology and characteristics in the Middle East and North Africa. Those educational lectures brought up all recent advances in research and patient management. I personally had the honor of presenting the new ESO/ESMO international consensus guidelines for advanced breast cancer (ABC4), which are still in press. It was very rewarding to see young Arab oncologists actively participating in discussions throughout the whole meeting.
It was noticeable that among young Arab oncologists, more than 60% were women, in contrast with senior oncologists, of whom only about 10% are women—in the conference rooms, listening, asking questions, and making comments. In fact, one of our American University of Beirut Oncology Fellows, Dr. Rana Salem, who is doing a piece of research on the difficulties and prospects of women oncologists in the region, had very good reply rates to a questionnaire that she distributed to all PACC-2018 women attendees. Many women oncologists came up to her and discussed their work satisfactions and difficulties, professional life, family and childbearing, and made comments about improving working conditions.
PACC-2018 ended with an extraordinary traditional gala reception with a great Tunisian menu, Tunisian musicians, and Arab songs and dances. Before the gala, special awards were presented to young oncologists for submitting the best abstracts. I was honored to receive the first Excellence in Cancer Research in the Arab World Award at PACC-2018 Opening Ceremony, which also included a talk on the history of Tunisia, Phoenicians who came from Tyr, Lebanon, and landed in Carthage, and how the country’s name became Tunisia, while its original name, Africa, was given to the entire continent.