TWENTY-FOUR hospitals under the Department of Health (DoH) will be upgraded and turned into regional centers for cancer as mandated by the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA), according to Dr. Beverly Lorraine C. Ho, director for the Disease Prevention and Control Bureau of DoH.

“We will have basic comprehensive centers on a regional level, advanced comprehensive centers on a sub-national level, and a national specialty center on a national level,” said Dr. Ho in the second episode of “Tita Hope Talks,” a cancer conversation series headed by MSD Philippines’ cancer advocacy campaign Hope From Within.

“We’re not building from scratch. These are existing facilities that are actually being upgraded,” said Dr. Ho. The licensing of the cancer facilities, she added, is in its final stages and the investment needs of the project will be presented at the next budget hearing.

The regional cancer centers will support the Philippine Cancer Center, the national specialty center and cancer research institution that will be built in the lot of the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City.

The hospitals are already operational, said Dr. Ho, who added that patients in these facilities are already receiving care and free medicine through DoH’s cancer assistance program. “It’s really the upgrading that we’re planning because that will require huge amounts of budget on an annual basis,” she said.

NICCA, or Republic Act No. 11215, was signed into law in February 2019 to allow the strengthening of essential programs throughout the cancer care spectrum. The system will be a collaboration with local government units  and their clinics, DoH and their hospitals, and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation.

Dr. Guia Elena Imelda R. Ladrera, section head of the Oncology Department of the Lung Center of the Philippines, emphasized the need for early detection to increase a cancer patient’s survival rate.

“As doctors, we might be lacking on educating the general public of the risk of different types of cancer. Without them knowing that, they won’t move forward to seek out screening, so we need to impart that important message across the different sectors of the Philippines,” she said.

Dr. Jorge G. Ignacio, chairman of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) Cancer Institute, also shared that fewer patients have been going to the hospital, with 20% of cancer patients no longer getting regular treatments at PGH since the pandemic. This has led to reports of their cancers relapsing.

PGH re-mobilized its diagnostic van for breast cancer, which offers on-the-spot mammograms and ultrasounds in Metro Manila and nearby areas. Tests can also be done in laboratory clinics such as Hi-Precision Diagnostics.

Panelists encouraged people to be proactive about their health.

“Patients generally do not get screened because, one, cost — though there are various programs that can address that — and two, education and just not knowing what is available to them out there,” said Amiel Zosimo Herrera, founder and chief executive officer of MedCheck, an e-consult and clinical research company that facilitates telemedicine appointments between physicians and patients.

DoH’s Dr. Ho added: “In healthcare, we are drawn to the bottom 20%, which is healthcare for when we actually feel something wrong, but 80% of the health of our population is shaped by socioeconomic factors, the physical environment, and our health behaviors. … We should be health literate, knowing symptoms and knowing when to visit our physicians.” — Brontë H. Lacsamana