DOH to provide free chemo for breast cancer patients

The Department of Health (DOH) launched on Wednesday a breast cancer medicines access program that will target indigent Filipino women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.

The program, a partnership between DOH and the Philippine Cancer Society, will provide free services like free early breast cancer screening, assured access to medicines and free chemotherapy cycles to poor Filipinos diagnosed with Stage I to Stage IIIA breast cancer.

The program will also provide psychosocial support for cancer patients and breast cancer awareness drives for the general public.

At the launch, Health Secretary Enrique Ona said breast cancer is now the leading cancer site for both Filipino men and women. Statistics also show that three out of 100 Filipinas are likely to develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and that one out of every 100 is likely to die from the disease before reaching 75 years old, he said.

However, Ona said breast cancer is a curable disease when detected, treated and managed early.

The DOH will initially provide six cycles of chemotherapy drugs for 80 patients. Twenty-six patients have already been picked from the Metro Manila and Rizal Cancer Registries, but other breast cancer patients may go to these four government hospitals to avail of the services:

East Avenue Medical Center;
Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center;
Philippine General Hospital; and
Rizal Medical Center

Ona said the pilot test of the program will initially run in the four government hospitals that have support facilities and expert teams that can manage breast cancer.

Budget for the program is estimated at P15 million, or as much as P180,000 per patient, Ona said.

He added that the Health Department is working with private partners to expand the scope of the program and provide access to breast cancer treatment in the provinces.

Mortality rate

In Asia, the Philippines is among the countries with the highest age standardized incidence rate for breast cancer. The mortality rate of breast cancer is also at an all-time high of 40 percent.

Philippine Cancer Society executive director Dr. Rachel Rosario said cases of breast cancer in the country continues to rise because of risk factors like fatty diets, unhealthy lifestyle, smoking and decreasing fertility.

Meanwhile, Leyte Representative Lucy Torres-Gomez, the official breast cancer advocate of the Health Department, said early detection is still the best defense for breast cancer. She shared that her mother survived breast cancer because the cancer was detected early.

She advised women to have regular checkups with the doctor and to learn how to perform a breast self-exam.

She also told patients to communicate what they are feeling to their families, as this will help family members become better caregivers to cancer patients.

"Speak up. Share what you're feeling," she said. "Hindi po kayo pabigat (You are not a burden)." — RSJ, GMA News