Beating cancer scourge

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The big news that recently hogged the headlines here and abroad was the official announcement from Buckingham Palace about King Charles III being diagnosed with cancer. As to what type of cancer that was detected in the 75-year-old British king remains undisclosed as of this writing. But reportedly it is not prostate cancer that was discovered after he recently had treatment for an enlarged prostate.

The news about King Charles having cancer has rekindled concern over this deadly illness that could afflict almost any one, young or old, rich or poor, powerful or weak. So indeed was timely to learn about the rolling out soon of the Philippine roadmap for cancer control. The National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) Council reported Wednesday that they are coming out with a strategic framework for cancer control.

After almost five years, NICCA is finally getting the attention it deserves from the government that was mandated to implement it. It was signed into law by then president Rodrigo Duterte as Republic Act (RA) 11215 in February 2019. Among other things, RA 11215 requires State support for the Cancer Control Program and the Cancer Assistance Fund (CAF) to help cancer-stricken patients cope with the financial burden of this life-threatening illness.

According to Senator JV Ejercito, one of the principal authors of NICCA, the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA) allocated P789.956 million and P529 million for the NICCA’s Cancer Control Program and CAF, respectively. Obviously, the annual budget increased for the Cancer Control Program from P500 million in 2021 while P120 million went to the CAF. The Cancer Control Program governs all cancer control activities of the government while the CAF provides financial aid to cancer patients.

The NICCA also established the Philippine Cancer Center (PCC), a research facility, and the National Integrated Cancer Control Council as its policy-making body under the direction of the Department of Health (DOH).

However, the implementation stage of NICCA got stalled largely due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that struck the Philippines in March 2020. It was only recently the World Health Organization (WHO) eased the alert as the spread of the highly contagious and deadly COVID-19 infection had been placed under control on a global scale.

Thus, we can at least expect DOH Secretary Teodoro Herbosa to give equal focus to the NICCA amid the fact that cancer-related illness has become one of the top killers of Filipinos. President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) appointed Herbosa to head the DOH in June last year. But it was only last December that Herbosa passed the bicameral congressional confirmation process at the Commission on Appointments.

Herbosa though is no stranger at the DOH. He first served as DOH undersecretary from 2010 to 2015 during the administration of former president Benigno Simeon Aquino III. Herbosa has the benefit of a short learning curve to capably deal with the bureaucratic maze at the DOH.

Speaking at our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday, oncologist Dr. Manuel Francisco Roxas disclosed he was informed by the Health Secretary that the government is eyeing the implementation of a program promoting cancer screening. Roxas was elated to hear from Sec. Herbosa that the DOH would spend more on cancer screening and prevention than providing chemotherapy for cancer patients who have been diagnosed in the late stage of the disease.

A surgeon and specialist on colorectal cancer, Roxas is the medical director of the Ayala-owned Healthway Cancer Care Hospital and is also the chairman of the Philippine College of Surgeons (PCS) Cancer Commission Foundation. Roxas noted with concern that cancer is the third leading cause of death among Filipinos.

“The battle against cancer needs a whole-of-society approach,” Dr. Roxas urged.

Roxas further noted that cancer cases among Filipinos are projected to rise due to the country’s ageing population. He explained the risk factor of getting cancer increases as one gets older. Aside from ageing, he explained other risk factors include genetics, tobacco, alcohol and obesity. However, he stressed that one can still live longer even after getting diagnosed with cancer. Early diagnosis and detection, Roxas pointed out, is the key for higher survival among cancer patients.

At the same Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum, Tefel Pesigan-Valentino, executive director of the same foundation, announced that they will be hosting a Fun Run this Sunday. Valentino invited the public to join them at the CCP grounds in Pasay City where mobile buses will provide free cancer screening for breast, cervix, thyroid and prostate.

In observance of World Cancer Awareness Day, Valentino also announced the PCS Cancer Commission is convening a Cancer Summit as a platform to drum up cancer awareness. The Cancer Summit will be held from Feb.29 to March 1 at Novotel in Quezon City where mobile buses will also be deployed for free screening for the public.

As part of the cancer care advocacy of the PCS Foundation, Valentino cited they have taken the initiative to organize activities dubbed “Be stronger 3-H.” It stands for health, heart and hope, she explained. “It aims to make cancer awareness simple, relatable and inspiring, especially to families whose loved ones get afflicted with cancer,” Valentino stressed. Near tears, she recalled how “traumatic” it was for their family when they lost her father due to lung cancer 14 years ago.

I could only empathize with her laments of losing family members to cancer. My dear sister succumbed to advanced stage of breast cancer in March 2019.

According to Roxas, one out of nine Filipinas gets breast cancer. Breast cancer cases in the Philippines are the highest in Asia, he noted. “This is a very sad data on breast cancer because it is closer to home,” he rued.

Roxas could only look forward to the start of construction for the Philippine Cancer Center that is reportedly set to rise in East Avenue in Quezon City. Currently, there are 35 designated cancer control centers nationwide so that people from far-flung provinces need not have to fly to Manila to beat cancer.

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