In 2012, 47,000 South Africans lost their lives to cancer

“As a developing country, South Africa is experiencing an increase in life expectancy, and as people live longer they are bound to develop  more ‘lifestyle-related diseases,’ including cancer,” said Sewram.

According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) latest statistics, 8.2 million people died of cancer in 2012. About 47,000 of these deaths occurred in South Africa where cancers of the lung, oesophagus, breast and prostrate are among those most common forms of cancer.

Meanwhile, as the world marks World Cancer Day,  the Department of Health has begun implementing measures to fight the increasing cancer burden, including updating the national cancer registry.

National cancer registries are used to track the incidence of cancer in order to monitor the disease. Due to laws prohibiting laboratories from divulging confidential patient information, no cancer statistics could be released by the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) to WHO between 2002 and 2011, when Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi introduced regulations compelling health care facilities and laboratories to report cancer cases to the national cancer registry.

But with the large back log of information, the NHLS is slow to release new data and the latest national cancer registry statistics date back to 2006.

“This system is still in the process of being implemented and therefore does not allow for the measurement of the true cancer burden in South Africa,” says Francios Peenz, chief executive officer for CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation, and executive committee member of the Cancer Alliance. “This impacts negatively on proper planning of cancer services across the cancer continuum in South Africa.”

Health advocates play a very essential role in advising the minister on what is likely to succeed

In June 2013, a Ministerial Advisory Committee on Cancer was also appointed to advise the minister on cancer prevention and control. The committee is made up of medical experts, academics and representatives of advocacy groups.

“It is important for government to know what is going on at the ground level otherwise we end up with an issue of discordant messages, where policy is being formulated…but there isn’t any reality of that to the people on the ground,” Sewram told Health-e. “Health advocates play a very essential role in advising the minister on what is likely to succeed.”

Government’s latest and boldest step to fight cancer is the roll out of the vaccine for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is responsible for most cervical cancer cases. Starting this year, all girls between the ages of nine and 11 in public sector schools will be vaccinated.

Though experts have expressed concern about the logistical challenges of vaccinating this large group of girls, the Department of Health announced that the roll out will begin in February or March this year, with a follow-up shot being scheduled for June or July.

One in every 38 women in South Africa will develop cervical cancer, and although it is the second commonest cancer, it kills more women than breast cancer, which is the most common type of cancer among South African women. – Health-e News Service.