World Cancer Day is marked on 4 February to raise awareness of the global impact of cancer and increase understanding of prevention, detection, treatment and care. The theme for 2014 is Debunk the myths.
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it accounted for 7.6 million deaths (around 13% of all deaths) in 2008.
According to the WHO, more people die from cancer than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
Most of these deaths are expected to occur in low to middle income countries like South Africa where myths, stigma and lack of knowledge are often the greatest barriers in the fight against cancer.
In commemoration of World Cancer Day Gauteng Health MEC Hope Papo applauded the department of Medical Oncology at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic hospital for efforts in improving the lives of children with cancer and reducing patient waiting times at its clinic.
The waiting times for new patients to be seen at the hospital has been reduced to less than two weeks which has enabled the hospital to offer more prompt chemotherapy treatment to patients and increase the number of patients seen by the oncology unit.
Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic hospital is the only hospital in the southern part of Gauteng that offers both medical and radiation oncology services. The hospital’s Radiation Oncology Unit is the largest in the country and treats about 3 500 patients a year.
It is followed by Tygerberg hospital in the Western Cape which treats 2 500 patients a year. The Radiation Oncology Unit has four dedicated clinics to treat a variety of cancers using state-of-the-art equipment and a dedicated Computed Tomography (CT) scanner on site for cancer planning. The unit has hosted the very first prostate brachytherapy seminar in the country and has a dedicated children's room for paediatric oncology cases.
“One of our satisfied patients, Shirley Koch is a volunteer who supports the hospital. She points out that if she had not received treatment at Charlotte Maxeke she would have long demised. This follows treatment from private hospitals who “abandoned” her when she could not manage the cost of treatment” the MEC said.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said in his budget vote speech that it costs up to R100 000 per patient in the public sector to treat each of the 6 000 cervical cancer patients.
Another patient, Susan Elder who is also on treatment at the Medical Oncology Unit provides tea and sandwiches to patients awaiting their treatment on a regular basis. In celebration of Cancer Awareness Day, she handed out goodies to patients in the outpatients’ medical oncology clinic.
About 270 children are admitted to the hospital’s paediatric haematology and oncology units annually for cancer and blood disorders. Children of school going age receiving treatment are attending classes in the hospital premises. This allows children not to lose out on education whilst receiving treatment. Whenever a child is unable to attend class, lessons are offered at their bedside. A number of learners have written their final examinations on a sick bed under a supervision of full time teachers and succeeded in their examination.
The Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria also recently opened the doors to their new Paediatric Oncology Unit, with a new stateof- the-art isolation room. The Oncology unit originated at the Kalafong Hospital, after which it moved to its new premises at Steve Biko Academic Hospital. The unit is managed by Prof David Reynders, who successfully conducted the first bone marrow transplant in a child in Pretoria.
Helen Joseph Hospital in Gauteng boasts a state-of-the-art Breast Clinic which is staffed by highly trained and experienced health professionals who perform miracles daily on women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
To continue the fight against cancer the Department of Health runs awareness campaigns on early detection on various types of cancer. In the past, cancer patients had to travel to other provinces to receive treatment - and in most cases they had to go numerous times to access treatment.
Provincial health departments are increasingly investing in state-of-the-art equipment to improve treatment and detection of the disease.
Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital in KwaZulu- Natal also has three radiotherapy machines which services cancer patients from around the province.
Different cancers have different symptoms but there are certain general symptoms. These include:
- Severe tiredness.
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain.
- Developing a lump or growth.
- Persistent cough or hoarseness.
- Noticeable changes in bowel movements or bladder activity.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Continual indigestion.
- Changes to the appearance of the skin and to existing moles or wounds that do not heal.
- Constant unexplained pain in a particular area of the body.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms visit your doctor immediately. Cancer can spread very quickly and the sooner it is diagnosed the greater the chances are of treating it successfully.
Many people believe that there is nothing you can do to prevent yourself from getting cancer but in truth a lot can be done.
According to the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) which founded World Cancer Day, “with the right strategies, a third of the most common cancers can be prevented”.
By living a healthy lifestyle and taking part in healthy activities you can decrease your chances of getting cancer drastically.
These include eating a nutritious diet, exercising and not smoking or consuming alcohol.
Tobacco use is the most common risk factor for cancer and is linked to 71 per cent of lung cancer deaths and 22 per cent of all cancer deaths.
Consuming alcohol is strongly linked to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, bowel and breast as well as liver cancer and bowel cancer in women.
Obesity is a high predictor of certain types of cancers such as bowel, breast, uterine, pancreatic, oesophagus, kidney and gallbladder cancer.