Today is World Cancer Day, and everyone is encouraged to raise awareness on this global scourge.
The Philippines has dire rankings in types of cancer: Breast cancer outranks the others, but there is now an alarming incidence of the other types.
Now is the time to educate ourselves in methods of prevention and detection, as well as the options available for treatment. It is important to remember that a cancer diagnosis does not always mean a death sentence.
The numbers provided in late 2017 by the Cancer Coalition Philippines (CCPh) — which includes the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, Cancer Warriors Foundation, Carewell Community Foundation, ICanServe Foundation, and Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, among others—highlight how cancer has become a “growing and serious public health concern.”
According to the CCPh, 11 new cancer cases are reported every day in the Philippines, and seven adults and eight children die every hour. Since 2012, 189 out of 100,000 Filipinos have been afflicted.
But that’s not the whole picture. “The actual cancer burden and cancer mortality in the Philippines are in fact very much higher than what is being reported,” the CCPh states. “Many remain uncounted, unrecorded and unreported due to the absence of national cancer registries.”
The Philippines has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Asia; one in every 13 Filipino women risk developing it during their lifetime, says oncologist Dr. Christina Galvez, president of the Philippine Breast Cancer Society. And the country has the highest incidence of prostate cancer in Asia as well, with 13 out of 100,000 Filipino men afflicted.
The Philippine Statistics Authority reports that one out of every 10 deaths is caused by cancer and that, since 2004, cancer has been the third highest cause of mortality among Filipinos, after cardiovascular diseases.
The horror of cancer lies in its nature: unknown growths occurring in different parts of the body, and the body turning on itself because of the malignant presences.
Like a medical time bomb, the tumors lie in wait, escaping detection unless specifically searched for, then unleashing an array of terrible symptoms when least expected. And cancer reaches out beyond the body, hurting families and loved ones.
Not only is there no cure for cancer; the treatment of the disease is also frightfully expensive, especially when it requires long periods of taking cancer-fighting drugs, tumor-removing surgery, and chemotherapy.
Says the CCPh: “Evidence shows that among cancer patients, the mean out-of-pocket expenditure for cancer treatment far exceeded the mean household income; 117 percent at baseline to 253 percent 12 months after, leading more than 56 percent of households into financial catastrophe. These huge out-of-pocket costs often deter health-seeking behavior or lead to discontinuance and abandonment of treatment. In some areas and with certain types of cancer, abandonment or discontinuance of treatment can be as high as 75 percent, while average treatment compliance is at a low 21 percent. These conditions are most observed among the poor sectors and even among the middle class.”
But the science of fighting cancer has never been better. Its stigma has also been greatly reduced, and those who survive cancer are proud examples to others. The Philippine government is in a crucial position to deal with this growing health problem.
Members of the two chambers of Congress have filed versions of a National Integrated Cancer Control Act, which seeks to strategically direct considerably better resources at the Philippines’ cancer problem.
The CCPh says the proposed measure would “expand efforts to effectively manage and control cancer, in all its forms, by increasing investments for its prevention, early and accurate detection, optimal treatment, and by adopting an integrated, multidisciplinary, and patient/family-centered approach.” Of the bills’ priorities, potentially the most crucial aspect is the P30-billion fund for patient assistance.
The Philippines’ fight against cancer is only going to get tougher, and all Filipinos should be aware of the value of early diagnosis. If there is anything that World Cancer Day reminds us, it is that cancer is not picky: We are all in danger and should all be part of the effort to fight it.