world cancer day 2021 covid-19

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World Cancer Day 2021: How cancer affects South Africans amid a pandemic

World Cancer Day is observed on 4 February.

world cancer day 2021 covid-19

Image via Adobe Stock

World Cancer Day is observed annually on 4 February. The day is used to raise awareness of the global impact of cancer and increase understanding of prevention, detection, treatment and care.

According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide and accounted for approximately 7.6 million deaths (around 13% of all deaths) back in 2008.

World Cancer Day 2021: What you need to know

This year’s theme: ‘I Am and I Will’

The theme for this year’s commemoration is “I Am and I Will”. The theme is was chosen by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to ‘”shine a light on the heroic responses to the pandemic by cancer organisations and individuals around the world.

The World Cancer Day theme “I Am and I Will” encapsulates the extraordinary spirit and the strength of the people working in the cancer community. 

Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)

The is all about each person and their personal commitment to reduce the impact of cancer. The UICC says it believes that “through positive actions, together we can reach the target of reducing the number of premature deaths from cancer.

Unfortunately, many organisations and individuals have been struggling during the past 13 months to maintain progress in cancer care. In addition, 115 000 South Africans are diagnosed with cancer each year.

How cancer affects South Africans

The three most deadliest types of cancer in South Africa are lung, cervical, and esophageal cancer, according to ANCON Medical.

Professor Vikash Sewram, Director, African Cancer Institute, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the Stellenbosch University said there is no one solution to SA’s cancer problem.

“Cancer remains the sixth main cause of mortality in South Africa and data from the National Cancer Registry reveals that in 2017, 81 607 new cases were diagnosed. Cancers of the breast, cervix and prostate continue to dominate with a similar profile extending into Africa”.

Watch: COVID-19’s impact on cancer care

Prof Vikash explains that South Africa has a “growing population of approximately 59.6 million and an ageing population”, which is expected to double the cancer caseload by 2040. He adds:

Unfortunately, barriers exist at the individual, health system, and government level, “which prevent millions of people globally from receiving an early diagnosis and better treatment”.

He also cites huge disparities in health resources which make populations in Africa “extremely vulnerable to developing and treating cancer”.

“Therefore, continued efforts in strengthening the capacity of the health sector, improving access to treatments and supportive services remain core to curbing the rising epidemic of cancer”.

Cancer and COVID-19

According to the UICC, Cancer organisations around the world are experiencing sharp declines in funding and operational resources.

Furthermore, cancer patients have suppressed immune systems and so due to their fears – as well as those of family members – related to COVID-19, they may cancel or delay hospital visits.

A similar fear of contagion may mean that people do not seek in-person medical advice, thus delaying the start of treatment. Restrictions on travel and social distancing guidelines also represent barriers to seeking care.

Another factor is the impact it has on cancer care when resources such as medicine protective gear, and hospital staff are diverted to the coronavirus response.

Lastly, fewer prevention methods as well as delayed treatment options and the suspension of early detection programmes could lead to a higher number of deaths due to cancer in the months and years to come.

Now read: ‘The most valiant fight of my life’ – Pat Atherton’s war on cancer