Breast and lung cancers are not only the most common types of the disease in the Philippines but also the deadliest.
In 2020, breast cancer ranked the most common type of cancer among Filipinos (27,163 new cases), followed by lung cancer (19,180). In terms of mortality, lung cancer ranks first followed by breast cancer in 2020 alone — with over 17,000 deaths and almost 10,000 deaths, respectively.
While the numbers can be alarming, patients have a strategic ally in fighting cancer – early screening and diagnosis. Cancer screening tests are designed to find cancers in their earliest stages, when the disease is most treatable. Many cancer screening tests have been found to lower the death rate from particular cancers. According to the World Health Organization, early diagnosis improves cancer outcomes by providing care at the earliest possible stage and is an important public health strategy in all settings.
In celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness this October and in preparation for Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November, Hope From Within, a multi-stakeholder cancer advocacy campaign spearheaded by MSD in the Philippines, spotlights the importance of testing and diagnosis in an episode of its cancer conversation series dubbed as ‘Tita Hope Talks: Winning vs Cancer through Accessible Testing & Diagnostics. The discussion highlights why accessible testing and diagnostics is vital to improve the outcomes of cancer patients. Hosted by broadcast journalist and health advocate Niña Corpuz, Hope From Within sought to remind the patients to be proactive in their health by consulting to their doctors, and at the same time encourage government leaders and decision makers to ensure that policies and programs on accessible cancer care are implemented properly.
Resource speakers include leukemia survivor Mr. Francisco “Paco” Magsaysay, CEO of Carmen’s Best; Dr. Razel Nikka M. Hao, Director IV of the Department of Health Public Health Services Team – Disease Prevention and Control Bureau; Dr. Arnold Uson, President of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology; and Melissa Ongsue-Lee, VP for Sales and Marketing of Hi-Precision Diagnostics.
Cancer early detection and diagnosis
Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, but many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screening is so important. Breast cancer image testing includes mammograms, breast ultrasound, and breast MRI. Oncologists could suggest a biopsy. This is done when mammograms, other imaging tests, or a physical exam shows a breast change that may be cancer.
Meanwhile, some lung cancers can be found by screening, but most lung cancers are found because they are causing problems. The actual diagnosis of lung cancer is made by looking at a sample of lung cells in the lab. Chest x-ray is one of the first screening procedures available. If the results of your history and physical exam suggest you might have lung cancer, more tests will be done. These could include imaging tests and/or biopsies of the lung.
A breakthrough screening test called biomarker testing provides a targeted treatment approach for cancer patients. Biomarker testing (also called tumor testing, tumor profiling, or tumor genetic testing) finds changes in your cancer that could help you and your doctor choose your cancer treatment.
The cost of misdiagnosis
A diagnostic error can be defined as a diagnosis that is missed, wrong or delayed, as detected by some subsequent definitive test or finding. The ensuing harm results from the delay or failure to treat a condition present when the working diagnosis was wrong or unknown, or from treatment provided for a condition not actually present.
Despite medical technology advancements, diagnosing cancer often revolves around a doctor looking at slides under a microscope. Accordingly, a pathologist (the doctor who analyzes the biopsy specimen) may make a mistake in his or her analysis due to inexperience, stress, or haste. Moreover, a pathologist usually does not have important information about the patient’s clinical picture, including his or her symptoms, medical history, or risk factors.
Access to better cancer care
Signed into law last February 2019, the RA 11215 or otherwise known as the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA), seeks to provide resources targeted toward cancer prevention, control, and awareness, alongside further aiding affected people affected by cancer. The NICCA also seeks to widen the scope of PhilHealth’s benefits packages to primary care screening, diagnosis, and end-of-life care for all stages and types of cancers, for both children and adults.
Another development in cancer care – the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) recently announced that the national government’s PHP529.2 million Cancer Assistance Fund may still be used until Dec. 31 this year.
This came following the DBM and the Department of Health’s (DOH) release of a joint memorandum circular (JMC) prescribing the Implementing Guidelines for the fund.
The CAF is a mechanism under Republic Act No. 11215 or the National Integrated Cancer Control Act, which seeks to provide integrated and holistic support to cancer treatment and management.
It aims to complement and supplement existing financial support mechanisms exclusive for cancer patients, persons living with cancer, and cancer survivors.
Pursuant to the circular, the CAF will also fund outpatient and inpatient cancer control services, including but not limited to diagnostics, therapeutic procedures, and other cancer medicines needed for the treatment and management of cancer and its care-related components.