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World Cancer Day is an opportunity for survivors to sta...

Maverick Citizen


World Cancer Day is an opportunity for survivors to stand up, speak up and be counted

We need to make sure that each person is educated about what this disease really entails. (Photo: / Wikipedia)

As the incidence of cancer increases and will continue to rise, policymakers and decision-makers need to plan effectively for cancer services for the future. The #CountMeIn, #TogetherWeCan and #IamIwill campaigns encourage those affected to add their voices to the narrative.

The focus of World Cancer Day, which is commemorated annually on 4 February, and International Childhood Cancer Day, commemorated on 15 February, is to bring awareness about cancer. South Africa’s cancer incidence is increasing – as is the case globally. Predictions for the next 10 years are that prostate, lung, cervical and breast cancer will increase dramatically.

What is also alarming is that haematological cancers associated with HIV will increase dramatically. People living with HIV now live longer due to successful ARV treatments, but are more at risk of cervical cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma due to their compromised immune systems. This will place a further burden on cancer services in the already crippled public sector. It is something that has to be planned for carefully.

On World Cancer Day the Cancer Alliance will launch its specific focus on the availability and affordability of bendamustine, a medicine used for the treatment of lymphoma. Although it is listed on the World Health Organisation’s essential medicines list it is not available in the public sector due to affordability issues.

The theme of World Cancer Day, however, focuses on what every citizen can do before pointing fingers at what governments have to do.

We need people to be empowered about their own health and what they can do to prevent cancer.

Empowerment is about ASK: Attitude, Skills and Knowledge. If each of us has the right attitude about being responsible for their own body and health within their own constraints, it is more than one-third of the battle won.

For skills you will need to be able to manage your own lifestyle, and that includes the management of stress as one of many contributing factors. The effective communication of possible warning signs to your healthcare professional is just another example of skills required. Knowledge of the disease may not be every person’s cup of tea, but we did it for HIV and now it is time to do it for cancer.

Cancer is a preventable disease. 

We need to make sure that each person is educated about what this disease really is, because it remains a complex disease that can affect any person regardless of age, sex, race or creed. By first knowing how you can prevent cancer by adapting a healthy lifestyle that will include not smoking; reducing your alcohol, salt and sugar intake; maintaining safe sexual practices and protecting yourself against the sun you can already minimise the risk of exposing your body to unwanted carcinogens that are readily available or prevalent.

Second, if you have a family risk and/or genetic predisposition it is something you should know and be extra vigilant about.

Make sure that you go for regular screening tests. If you are not in the higher-risk category you should still make sure that you know what the warning signs and symptoms are. You live with your body, so when you are aware of anything that is not normal you should attend to it sooner rather than later.

Take yourself to a healthcare professional to be screened and checked. If cancer is detected at an early stage it is a very treatable disease and not the death sentence many people think it is.

Too many people are diagnosed with late-stage disease and this is mainly associated with people who access the public health system. Many factors contribute to that, but the ASK concept still remains one of the main contributors to each person making a contribution to minimising the increase in cancer in our country. 

With the #IamIwill campaign comes the responsibility of each person, parent and partner to make sure that they have empowered themselves and their loved ones. It speaks to our teachers to include ASK in their curricula as early as possible to create a cancer-aware society for the future.

Employers have an equally important role to play to ensure that their workforce is not exposed to carcinogens such as harmful chemical substances and poisons, or continuous exposure to the sun. They should also make sure that their workers are able to attend regular screening opportunities for cancer. This is specifically relevant in the agricultural sector where many workers do not have appropriate protective clothing and means to protect themselves.

(Photo: / Wikipedia)

Become actively involved in the #IamIwill campaign.

In South Africa we already have the following in place to combat cancer: 

Policies for prostate and lung cancer will be adopted in 2021. We also have dedicated cancer healthcare professionals associated with treatment centres in the public and private sector, as well as many non-governmental organisations that offer a wide range of services across the cancer continuum of care.

Living with Cancer, the latest member to join the Cancer Alliance, is launching an exciting campaign called #CountMeIn. This will be a patient-led registry where cancer survivors can register themselves. The campaign is supported by the National Cancer Registry, which is officially tasked with recording the burden of the disease. The registry recorded a total of 81,607 new cases for 2017.

It is well documented that cancer incidence is underreported, which is associated with under-diagnosis, which in turn is associated with cases that never get diagnosed as it may be too late. In the #CountMeIn campaign we want people to STAND UP and SPEAK UP about their diagnosis, because this can assist policy-makers and decision-makers to plan effectively for cancer services for the future.

We need your voice. You can make a difference. #TogetherWeCan. DM/MC

Salomé Meyer is a cancer advocate and activist, and the project manager at the Cancer Alliance’s Access to Medicine Campaign. 


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