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Friday, June 14, 2024

A breast cancer story

Instead of putting the people’s money in the confidential funds of government officials, put more money into cancer prevention and treatment programs

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time when individuals, communities, and organizations unite to raise awareness about breast cancer and work towards a future where this devastating disease no longer threatens lives.

In the Philippines, breast cancer remains a significant public health concern, and addressing it effectively requires both increased awareness and government support.

Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women worldwide.

Philippine Cancer Society president Dr. Corazon Ngelangel reports that breast cancer is also the predominant cancer type in the Philippines, with 27,163 new cases and 9,926 deaths yearly.

The survival rate among Filipinos is 44.4 percent over five years, which Ngelangel said is not a good picture.

Survival rates for breast cancer depend on various factors, including the stage at which the cancer is detected. In the Philippines, early detection rates are lower compared to more developed countries. Ngelangel said more than half – 65 percent – of breast cancer cases in the Philippines are diagnosed in the late or advanced stages.

Late-stage diagnosis, combined with limited access to healthcare services, contributes to the overall lower survival rates. However, when breast cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the survival rate is higher.

So, what can be done to improve one’s chances of surviving breast cancer in the Philippines? Education and awareness are key.

Many Filipinos lack sufficient knowledge about breast cancer, including risk factors, early warning signs, and the importance of regular screening.

Public campaigns and educational programs are essential to inform and empower individuals.

Self-breast examinations should be promoted to encourage early detection, as this simple practice can significantly improve outcomes.

I found out I had breast cancer after doing a self-examination.

It was in 2020, during the pandemic, and just two years after my treatment for stage 3 colon cancer. Stuck at home,

I became more aware of my body and my health.

Running my fingers under my right armpit, I felt a hard knot stuck to the flesh under the skin. My blood ran cold, and time seemed to stop. That lump hadn’t been there the month before.

I immediately contacted my oncologist. Many tests later (including COVID tests, because during that time one could not enter a hospital for procedures without a negative test), I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer.

I asked my doctor to schedule surgery right away. I opted for the radical treatment – a double mastectomy.

Because I had done the self-examination, and because I had immediately gone for tests, the cancer was detected early, with no lymph nodes found affected.

It was deemed that there was no need for me to undergo radiation treatment.

Healthcare access is another crucial factor in increasing survival rates.

The government must invest in improving healthcare infrastructure and services, particularly in rural areas, to ensure that women across the country have access to early diagnosis and treatment.

Reducing the financial burden on patients through subsidies and insurance programs can make treatment more accessible and affordable.

Though I did not have to undergo radiation, I did need four rounds of chemotherapy and one year of trastuzumab treatment.

These were very expensive, and I was only able to afford them because of the generosity of donors. What about those patients who don’t have such options?

The government must prioritize the health of its citizens and one way to deliver true universal health care, like the previous administration was touting, is to spend national funds prudently and wisely.

Put taxpayer money toward health services, rather than the confidential funds of government officials.

The government can also play a pivotal role in enhancing support for Filipinos facing breast cancer through fully implementing the National Integrated Cancer Control Act.

This is a crucial piece of legislation aimed at improving cancer prevention, treatment, and support services. It provides a framework for a comprehensive and coordinated approach to cancer control in the Philippines.

Under the NICCA, cancer warriors are recognized as persons with disabilities, thus entitling them to receive PWD benefits such as a 20 percent discount on medicines.

Through an assistance fund, cancer patients may avail of financial help for screening, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, palliative care, support care, and medicines.

There are at least 31 hospitals that have been allotted funds for cancer control, among them the Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Lung Center of the Philippines, and East Avenue Medical Center (one of those considered an advanced comprehensive cancer center).

Instead of putting the people’s money in the confidential funds of government officials, put more money into cancer prevention and treatment programs.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of early detection, access to quality healthcare, and government support.

It’s a month to celebrate the survivors, remember those who have lost the battle, and work collectively to reduce the incidence and improve the survival rate of breast cancer in the Philippines.

This month let’s remember that we can make a difference, both individually and collectively, in the fight against breast cancer in the Philippines.

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