Tackling cancer: a global response

Excerpts from an article by Franco Cavalli, Chairman of the Scientific Committee of the European School of Oncology.

World Cancer Day on Feb 4, 2016, offers an opportunity to draw public attention to the plight of millions of people across the globe who are suffering and dying from this disease, and to raise awareness about how much could be achieved if the global community took decisive steps to improve access to cancer prevention, early detection, treatment, and care.

In the continuing absence of such action, however, World Cancer Day risks turning into the day when we wring our hands in frustration and mark yet another year along the catastrophic path that will see the global cancer death toll rise from its 2012 level of around 8 million to more than 13 million by 2030, with half of them being in people younger than 70 years.

Once largely confined to rich countries, cancer is becoming a leading health problem across developing countries.  In the next 15 years, three out of four cancer deaths are expected to occur in middle-income countries.

4 years have passed since the World Oncology Forum issued the Stop Cancer Now! appeal, which called on governments and the global community to work together to implement a 10-point strategy to turn the tide on cancer. 

Despite these steps, there has been little coordinated global action on cancer. With cancer alone draining about US$2 trillion from the world economy in terms of direct costs and lost output, this issue should be high up on the global political and economic agenda. 

The article goes on to talk about costings done by the World Bank which they feel should be affordable for low and middle income countries to tackle cancer holistically. They arrived at a figure of $20 billion per year or 3% of total public spending on health.  In my humble opinion with the healthcare challenges facing S.A. I don’t think it’s feasible.

On another note, according to the CANSA website (and recently in the news), South Africa’s central cancer database is out of date and is “receiving attention”.

The lack of an updated cancer registry for South Africa will be a thing of the past as soon as the Department of Health’s regulation, which will compel health care facilities and laboratories to provide the National Cancer Registry (NCR) with information, is published in the Government Gazette. 

I’ve often felt that cancer education had to take a back seat to HIV/Aids education and testing, although one could argue that both are lifestyle diseases.  Both leave children and families in their wake.  According to the CANSA website, 90% of cancers are caused by lifestyle choices e.g. smoking, diet, exercise; and they go on to say that more than 100 000 South Africans are diagnosed with cancer annually. But it doesn’t come near the Aids statistics (In 2015, Stats SA estimated 6.19 million South Africans live with HIV.) So I suppose that blows my argument for cancer out the water.

Be that as it may, I still feel cancer education is sorely lacking. The only message that reached me ad nauseam over the years was “smoking causes cancer” and pictures of black lungs and warnings on cigarette boxes but once you’ve seen it ten times you switch off – “yeah whatever”. And as a female to go have your boobs checked out. But I’ve never seen information about symptoms – “do you cough up blood?” – “do you have curved nails?” – “lung cancer spreads fastest to the brain” – etc. etc.  I wonder where CANSA does their education? Can’t say I ever seen anything in newspapers or magazines.  Provincial hospitals?  Events that I never attended?

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