Accounting for over 15,000 deaths per year, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the Philippines. Despite coverage for early-stage cancer, few lung cancer patients are diagnosed early. In fact, 72 percent of cases diagnosed are already in their late stages.
With limited public funding, late-stage cancer patients face significant challenges in sustaining treatment. This includes costly diagnostic tests and treatments, which are the everyday realities for many Filipino lung cancer patients. This is why AstraZeneca, through its AZ Cares Program, is striving to give lung cancer patients the support they need throughout their treatment journey – from understanding their disease, accessing diagnostic testing centers, undergoing genetic mutation testing to getting funding for their treatment, and even proper administration of injectable medicine.
According to Nanay Marissa, a 62-year old teacher diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, support is the one thing she needs fight her disease. “I thought a stage 4 cancer diagnosis was a death sentence, but here I am today, living with cancer with the support of my family and my doctor,” says Nanay Marissa.
The Burden of Cancer in the Philippines
Nanay Marissa is just one of the 17,255 Filipinos diagnosed with lung cancer every year. “Lung cancer accounts for 12.2% of all newly diagnosed cancer cases in the Philippines. Unfortunately, most are diagnosed at the later stages, and this results to a higher mortality rate,” says Dr. Herdee Luna of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology.
More than 11,000 Filipinos suffer late-stage lung cancer, yet there is still limited awareness on the disease and access to comprehensive treatment is a crucial challenge. Late-stage cancer patients often face challenges in sustaining treatment, leaving the patient and his or her family to bear majority of expenses out-of-pocket. Medication and hospitalization are not the only drivers of the cost of cancer treatment. Majority of cancer care expense, in fact, is driven by miscellaneous expenses incurred while getting treated – such as fares going to and from hospitals, food in hospitals, and wages of caregivers.
Apart from access to treatment, getting a fast and accurate diagnosis could also be a challenge for patients due to limited access to specialists and diagnostics testing centers. For instance, lung cancer patients are rarely diagnosed early because most would present with symptoms similar to tuberculosis, and would be treated for the infection prior to any further cancer screening on the observed lung mass. Moreover, lung cancer patients are now required to be tested for genetic mutations to determine their eligibility for non-chemotherapy, personalized treatment options. However, in the Philippines, genetic mutation tests, such as the EGFR mutation test, are expensive and accessible only through laboratories in Metro Manila.
“Late-stage cancer patients are living longer with newer medicines improving their survival. We should start looking at cancer just like chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. More than our pity, these cancer patients need support to fight for survivorship. Many patients support programs are now available to help them with their cancer treatment,” says Dr. Herdee Luna.
The AZ Cares Program
To support the challenges faced by late-stage cancer patients, AstraZeneca Philippines has collaborated with several partners to launch the AZ Cares Program. This Patient Support Program provides end-to-end healthcare management support for both lung and breast cancer patients to get the best treatment by addressing challenges faced by patients throughout their treatment journey – from understanding their disease, accessing diagnostic testing centers, undergoing genetic mutation testing to getting funding for their treatment and even proper administration of injectable medicine. To date, over 3,600 lung and breast Filipino cancer patients have been reached by AZ CARES since its launch in 2016.
The AZ Cares Program offers the following:
EGFR mutation testing: free EGFR mutation testing to all eligible lung cancer patients with a dedicated Diagnostics Support Nurse to guide the patients to avail of the free genetic test from more than 50 access points nationwide.
Injection Administration: a dedicated nurse to support doctors and patients during intramuscular administration of the injectable medicine.
Affordable medicine: a treatment patient support program, which allows patients to avail of innovative medicine for lung and breast cancer at a discounted price.
The program aims to expand to more cancer types and touching more Filipinos
For Nanay Marissa, the AZ Cares Program gives her the support she needs to fight. “I am living with late-stage cancer, but I am not alone and I am in control of it,” she said.