Cancer is the third leading cause of death in the Philippines. The most common forms of cancer among Filipinos are cancers of the lung, breast, cervix, liver, colon and rectum, prostate, stomach, mouth, ovary and leukemias.
Cancer is a catastrophic disease, the treatment of which creates financial problems for many Filipino patients and their families. Unfortunately, there is minimal public awareness on cancer prevention and early detection. Most Filipino cancer patients consult a doctor only when their disease is already in its advanced stage. This late detection significantly decreases the chance of successful treatment and is compounded by the high cost of the therapy. As a result, survival rates in the country are relatively low.
The old adage about prevention being better than cure is particularly true of certain types of cancers. Prevention starts with awareness. One in three cancer deaths could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors. Eat less meat, more fruits and veggies. Don’t smoke. Exercise regularly. Maintain optimal weight. Get vaccinated against hepatitis B and HPV or human papillomavirus, the leading risk factors for liver and cervical cancer, respectively.
Regular screening for cancer is vital, particularly for apparently well, asymptomatic individuals. Some useful screening tests include: Pap test and visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) for cervical cancer; breast self-examination and mammogram for breast cancer; digital rectal exam (DRE) and PSA test for prostate cancer; and fecal occult blood test (Fobi) for colorectal cancer.
Cancer can attack any of the internal organs. Thus, the signs and symptoms vary depending on the type of the disease. However there are general constitutional conditions that are associated with, but not specific to, cancer, that may be summarized in the acronym CAUTION US. It is advisable to immediately consult your doctor if you experience any of the following:
Change in bowel or bladder habits; A sore that does not heal; Unusual bleeding or discharge; Thickening or lump in the breast, testicles or elsewhere; Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing; Obvious change in the size, color, shape or thickness of a wart, mole or mouth sore; Nagging cough or hoarseness; Unexplained anemia; Sudden weight loss
Cancer treatment involves one or more interventions, such as surgery, radiotherapy and systemic therapy. Treatment goals are to cure the disease or considerably prolong life while improving the patient’s quality of life. Breast cancer, cervical cancer, oral cancer and colorectal cancer have higher cure rates when detected early and treated according to best practices. Even disseminated cases of leukemias and lymphomas in children and testicular cancer in adults have high cure rates if appropriate treatment is provided. Cancer diagnosis and treatment is complemented by counseling.
The Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO) and the Philippine Society of Hematology and Blood Transfusion (PSHBT) partnered with Novartis Oncology Philippines, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and patient support groups such as the Philippine Foundation for Breast Care-Kasuso, Touched by Max Philippines, Balikatang Thalassemia to establish ONCOURAGE. Through an expert panel of medical specialists and patient advocates, the ONCOURAGE Health Information Advocacy will provide health information and updates to the public, media and healthcare professionals to promote the prevention, detection and management of cancer and blood disorders in the country. It is a combination of the prefix “onco” which means cancer and the word “courage.” It can also be read as “on courage.” ONCOURAGE pays tribute to the bravery of patients with cancer and blood disorders.
Dr. Felycette Gay Martinez-Lapus is the president of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology.