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Saturday, May 18, 2024

World Cancer Day

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World Cancer Day may have come and gone, but if you’re fighting cancer, or have a relative or friend who does, every day is cancer day

‘Close the cancer gap’ — that’s this year’s theme of World Cancer Day, observed last Feb. 4 and led by the Union for International Cancer Control.

According to the NCD (noncommunicable diseases) Alliance, this theme, used over the last three years, focuses on “addressing issues of equity in cancer care, rallying individuals, organizations, and governments alike to address the disparities that hinder access to essential cancer services for many people, due to age, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic situation or geographical location.”

It is imperative, writes the NCD Alliance, to ask world leaders to “close the cancer gap” by implementing programs and policies and allocate resources to making sure “no one dies from a preventable and treatable cancer.”

In the Philippines, the cost of good cancer care is still prohibitive and, as always, the ‘haves’ receive better care than the ‘have nots.’

As a cancer warrior myself who has battled third-stage colon and first-stage breast cancers, this disease has resulted in financial straits for myself and family.

I got the best care and live to fight another day, but bankrupted myself in the process.

We can imagine how much worse it is for those without privilege, without savings, without earnings, without the ability to borrow money.

It’s practically a death sentence.

Government care of cancer patients only goes so far.

The National Integrated Cancer Control Act that aims to reduce the financial burden of cancer on patients and their families was enacted in 2019.

But a material from the Philippine Cancer Summit 2024, to be held February 29 to March 1, says “much remains to be done. Implementation of key provisions needs to be advanced and accelerated.” An ordinary person researching the internet for news about the NICCA’s implementation will be frustrated.

The most recent I can find is the one about the Cancer Summit, and an article by Cristina Eloisa Baclig in the Philippine Daily Inquirer from October last year, that again mentioned the many wonderful promises of the NICCA will be fulfilled if “the legislation is fully implemented.”

The article quotes ICanServe Foundation founding president Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala as having said: “We need to implement NICCA immediately…and work overtime and behave as we did in 202 when we united and scrambled to find solutions to fight the [COVID-19] pandemic.”

Why is it taking so long to fully implement the NICCA?

On paper, it’s a wonderful law, and the Philippines is one of only eight countries in the world that have a cancer law (per Alikpala).

But why the unconscionable delay in making it happen, and work as it should to improve the lives of Filipino cancer patients?

The same article by Baclig also cites the following facts: that cancer is a leading cause of death among Filipinos; and that cancer treatments “have been financially catastrophic,” thus making “cancer care inaccessible to many, especially the poor.”

Given all that, something we’ve known for ages, why isn’t there a sense of urgency about this issue? And it isn’t only cancer care that needs government and private funding, but also cancer research.

Last month, the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Science website posted an article by Harvey L. Sapigao about UP chemists who modified the anticancer compound deguelin into “a novel class of compounds that show promise as safer and more effective treatments for colon, lung, and breast cancer.”

“Reduced adverse effects” were noted in tests done on human cancer cell cultures. A version called 6a “outperformed doxorubicin” in treating colon cancer, while two other versions were found to excel in treating lung and breast cancer.

These compounds are simpler and more cost-effective to produce. As a colon cancer patient, I was given doxorubicin and suffered awful side effects. A doctor friend told me,

“That’s why they call it the ‘red devil’ chemo.”

And it cost the earth. Now if the new compounds created by the UP scientists are more effective, hopefully with less severe side effects, and cheaper and easier to make, shouldn’t we accelerate the research and development in this area – and help close the cancer gap?

We also need better communications about cancer, NICCA, and new breakthroughs and developments in the fight against cancer.

Makati Medical Center oncologist Dr. Maria Belen Tamayo recently spearheaded a communication initiative via an infographic display about hereditary cancer at the MMC lobby for World Cancer Day. The huge display featured the photos of patients who are cancer warriors (myself among them) and their questions related to hereditary cancer, with answers from the oncology team.

World Cancer Day may have come and gone, but if you’re fighting cancer, or have a relative or friend who does, every day is cancer day.

Every day is a day we think about cancer, how to defeat it, how to make screening, care, and treatments accessible to everyone.

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