A strengthened fight against cancer

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Cancer remains as one of the top causes of death in the Philippines, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). In a report published by PSA last June on its Web site, cancer (technically termed as neoplasms in the report) is the second leading cause of mortality, next to ischaemic heart diseases, with 64,125 registered deaths in 2017.

In addition, the Department of Health’s (DoH) Philippine Cancer Facts and Estimates stated that up to eight deaths per day are caused by cancer among children, while up to 11 new cases and seven deaths per hour are caused by cancer among adults. “This means 110,000 new cancer cases and over 66,000 cancer deaths each year,” DoH concluded in a statement.

With these unsettling numbers, it is no wonder that cancer is regarded as a national health priority in the country. Hence, several moves have been made to address the epidemic and mitigate its sudden attack.

DoH started such efforts in the 1970s by creating the National Cancer Control Center and initiating a registry that gathers cancer incidence data. Efforts improved when the Philippine Cancer Control Program (PCCP) was institutionalized in 1990 through Administrative Order No. 89-A s. 1990.

“It is on the premise that cancer can be largely prevented mainly as a public health effort that the Philippine Cancer Control Program was established,” a DoH primer on the program read.

“The goal of the PCCP is to establish and maintain a system that integrates scientific progress and its practical applications into a comprehensive program that will reduce cancer Morbidity and Mortality in the Philippines,” it added.

The PCCP laid out specific programs to deal with controlling lung, breast, cervical, liver, and colorectal cancers.

Later on, when the need to revisit the PCCP was seen, a National Cancer Control Committee was created to develop the National Cancer Prevention and Control Plan 2015-2020, with the mission to “reduce the impact of cancer and improve the well-being of Filipino people with cancer and their families”.

The DoH continues its fight to control cancer in the country through several interventions and strategies. DoH provides free cervical cancer screening annually in several DoH hospitals for women ages 30-45 years of age. The screenings are done during May, which is also Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.

Also, free adjuvant chemotherapy is available for women diagnosed stage 1 to 3A breast cancer; while free chemotherapy for acute lymphatic leukemia can be availed by children with cancer.

Another program that assists cancer patients is the PhilHealth Z-Benefit Package. Catering to patients with diseases which include breast, prostate, cervical cancers, the in-patient package consists of mandatory diagnostics, operating room expenses, doctor/professional fees, room and board, and medicines.

Moreover, in a report by the Philippine News Agency, DoH Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said the DoH has intensified the program which includes the establishment of 24/7 cancer centers in various DoH hospitals nationwide. “We provide free medicine for breast, childhood and colorectal cancers through our medicines access program,” he added.

But more importantly, the fight against cancer is now further strengthened as President Rodrigo R. Duterte recently signed the Republic Act (R.A.) 11215 or the National Integrated Cancer Control Act last February.

The law establishes an integrated cancer control program “which shall serve as the framework for all cancer-related activities of the government”. The program’s objectives include decreasing the overall mortality and impact of all adult and childhood cancer; preventing cancer recurrence, metastasis and secondary cancer among survivors and people living with cancer; and making cancer treatment and care more affordable and accessible, among others.

It also directs local government units and other government agencies to “strengthen the capability of public health systems and facilities, provision of services and continuum of care.”

Moreover, it creates the Philippine Cancer Center, which shall serve to provide for accommodation and treatment of cancer patients as well as to engage in scientific research on cancer prevention, treatment, and care.

A Cancer Assistance Fund is also established by the law “to support the cancer medicine and treatment assistance program.”

In commending this approval of R.A. 11215, the Cancer Coalition of the Philippines regards the enactment as “a breath of fresh air that embraced individual patients and families, and the whole cancer community with hope.” — Adrian Paul B. Conoza