A key message for this year’s World Cancer Day is the importance of access to quality cancer care, including palliative care. Many people who have cancer will die from it, and the rights and needs of these people and their families must be remembered and included in each country’s National Cancer Control Plan.
Africa faces a double burden with a significant burden of cancers associated with infectious agents. These include cervical cancer, liver cancer, Kaposi sarcoma, Burkitts lymphoma, among others.
At a time when investment by countries into both cancer prevention, treatment and care is still far below what the cancer burden requires, efforts are being made to ensure better and more effective cancer prevention, treatment and care.
Each year more than 6.5 million adults and 68,000 children with cancer need palliative care at the end of life (WHO & WHPCA, 2014). Millions more people with cancer will need palliative care throughout their life, not just at the end.
People with cancer can benefit from palliative care from the time of their diagnosis. However, in many parts of the world, people present late to healthcare services, which means that by the time their cancer is diagnosed, palliative care is the only approach that may be of benefit to them.
“Where curative means are available, affordable and still relevant the services should be provided together with palliative care,” said APCA Executive Director, Dr Emmanuel Luyirika.
As we improve on the access to radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery for cancer, palliative care must also be developed in tandem to ensure that no patients suffer unnecessary pain and symptoms when receiving curative treatments or even if they are beyond reach that such patients can access the easily affordable palliative interventions.
A lack of education in and awareness of palliative care among healthcare professionals, as well as a focus only on cure, means that people with advanced cancer are often sent home to die without proper care or pain control, as they are told that there is ‘nothing more the healthcare system can do’.
All those with cancer should have access to hospice and palliative care from the point of diagnosis until the end of their life, and their families and carers should be able to access bereavement care. This should be available as part of Universal Health Coverage, so that people can access cancer care while being protected from financial hardship.
Palliative care must be integrated into all healthcare systems and National Cancer Control Plans, so that doctors are aware that there is an option for people whose cancer is beyond cure, and so that people in need of hospice and palliative care can be referred to these services.
“Where the dream of cancer treatment for cure is not possible as is the case at presentation for the majority of African patients palliative care should be provided. As a continent, we need to form viable partnerships public-private partnerships to improve on the lot of our cancer patients.”
“Cancer care needs to be comprehensive embracing both new technologies and new anticancer molecules to ensure better outcomes but also keeping the palliative care standards high,” Dr Luyirika said.