Cancer is a global epidemic, so much so that the international and South African cancer communities created an international day of awareness – 4th February is World Cancer Awareness Day – in an effort to highlight the issues and bring about change. This is a treatable disease after all!
In an effort to address the growing burden of cancer the world over, South African NGO and cancer advocacy group Campaigning for Cancer along with healthcare stakeholders and corporate South Africa have joined forces with the rest of the world to rally government and the country to take a stand.
For those of you who don’t realise, Africa’s cancer burden is expected to nearly double by 2030 (1.2 million new cases and 900 000 cancer deaths¹). We can expect to see 20 million new cases and 12.9 million cancer deaths globally by 2030². This is according to a report by the American cancer society, LIVESTRONG.
Here are some more utterly shocking statistics. “Cancer kills MORE people than AIDS, TB and Malaria combined³. Yes, combined!
One in four South Africans stand the chance of needing cancer care or treatment in their lifetime ³!
Cancer needn’t be a death sentence, when caught early, through a combination of treatments that include chemotherapy, radiation and biogenetics (targeted therapies), patients can live healthy productive and fulfilled lives.
Not only is the concern that people aren’t familiar with the signs and symptoms to watch out for, they aren’t aware of the treatment options available to them. Traditionally there was a blanket treatment for all; blitzing fast growing cells, good and bad, and hoping that all the cancer cells got killed in the blitz. These treatments have some nasty side-effects that include nausea, fatigue, hair loss and radiation recall. With newer treatments like targeted therapies, the “bad” cells are targeted and the success rate for the patient is remarkably better.
Creating awareness about cancer symptoms and treatment options and plans should be a large part of cancer campaigns because catching the disease early can make all the difference as far as survival goes. There is however also a need to create awareness of additional challenges faced by patients in order to create an effective support structure. These include lack of access to screening services, the social stigma attached to the disease, misconceptions about how cancer only affects certain communities, the ‘death sentence’ perception (this is when patients who could receive treatment and fully recover feel demoralised), not forgetting the financial burden that cancer treatment can have for the patient and their family.
What does this mean for South Africans?
It is estimated that one third of all cancers could be cured if they are adequately diagnosed and treated.
Cancer treatment is available through private funding or public funding. Members of medical schemes have benefits that are designed to pay for their treatment. These benefits may be subject to limitations that require patients to pay a portion of the treatment costs or exclude newer treatments. It is therefore advisable to review your medical cover and make the necessary changes as such burdens can have catastrophic financial effects for patients who are not informed about the mechanics of medical scheme coverage or how to select the correct benefits.
Patients in the public healthcare system often wait long periods for treatment or have to travel vast distances to access healthcare services. Time is deadly in the case of cancer.
“We want to see government commit to do more as we believe every South African cancer patient deserves appropriate cancer care and treatment.
“Campaigning for Cancer wants to be the peoples’ voice. We ask that patients upload their stories and experiences to our website http://www.costofcancer.co.za/ , follow us on Twitter and Facebook in order to create a united voice and strengthen our case when pushing for change,” says the CEO, Lauren Pretorius.
¹’² Boyle P, et al. World Cancer Report. IARC Press, Lyon, 2008.
³ David Kerr, Chief Research Adviser, Sidra Medical and Research Centre, public lecture at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, 2010.