FOUR FILIPINOS die of cancer every hour, almost 100 every day. According to the Department of Health, the most common cancers among Filipino men are lung, liver, colon/rectum, prostate, stomach, and leukemia. Among Filipino women, the most common cancers are breast, cervix, lung, colon/rectum, ovary and liver.
A national health priority, cancer is the third leading cause of sickness and death in the country, exacting a heavy toll on Filipino families, the health care system, the economy, and overall national development. Experts suspect that the actual disease burden of cancer in the country is much higher than what is being reported, with many cases unreported because of the absence of national cancer registries. According to the World Health Organization, only one in five low- and middle-income countries have the necessary data to drive cancer policy.
Cancer is considered a “catastrophic disease” because the financial cost of its diagnosis and treatment far exceed the average household income of the vast majority of Filipinos. Apart from serious illness, for most Filipinos cancer can also lead to destitution. Many cancer patients in the country are diagnosed when the disease is already in its advanced stage, with poor compliance and treatment discontinuance also common. The government, through PhilHealth and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, is doing its best to help Filipino patients pay for the cost of cancer treatment.
On Feb. 4, the world marked World Cancer Day, aiming to reduce the number of preventable deaths each year by raising cancer awareness among the general public and pressing governments to take further action against the disease.
Joining the increasing call to put spotlight on cancer, the Cancer Coalition Philippines (CCPh) — a national alliance of patient groups, health care providers, and advocates dedicated to improving cancer care in the country — is urging Congress to pass an “Integrated National Cancer Control Act.” The bill aims to expand efforts to effectively manage and control all forms of cancer through increased investments for its prevention, early and accurate detection, and optimal treatment; and the adoption of an integrated, multi-disciplinary, and patient/family-centered approach.
CCPh seeks to include provisions on strengthening the country’s cancer care infrastructure and service delivery networks to cover the continuum of care; boosting the capacity of health care professionals in cancer care; strengthening regulations to ensure the safety, quality, and efficacy of medicines, biologics, and other health technologies; and institutionalizing funding and social protection mechanisms for cancer patients and their families.
Everyone can take steps to reduce cancer risk by making healthy lifestyle choices. Cancer could affect everyone, so we must all do our part in fighting this enemy disease.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). Medicine Cabinet is a weekly PHAP column that aims to promote awareness on public health and health care-related issues. PHAP and its member companies represent the research-based pharmaceutical and health care industry.