Filed picture: Leukaemia is the most common cancer affecting young people.
South Africa needs a more concerted policy focus on cancer and other non-communicable diseases, says the Institute of Race Relations.

In a report, “Non-communicable diseases barely at heart of policy”, issued to coincide with National Cancer Survivors Day today, the institute’s health-care analyst and author of the report Tawanda Makombo notes: “Cancer has a devastating effect on communities and households in South Africa.”

This is particularly true for poorer households, who struggle to afford treatment and care options.

Health-care policy debates in South Africa have tended to focus on HIV/Aids, the state of health-care facilities and, of late, health-care financing models and the NHI proposal.

“To that list we think the government and political leaders should add a new focus on non-communicable diseases such as cancer.”

The report reveals the extent to which cancer and other non-communicable diseases affect South Africans.

It shows:

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting adult men (18% of all recorded cancers suffered by men);

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting adult women (22%), though, among black women, cervical cancer is slightly more prevalent than breast cancer; and

Leukaemia is the most common cancer affecting young people.

South Africa’s recorded cancer death rate is 117 deaths per 100000 people a year, higher than in Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria, Mexico and Mozambique, but lower than the rates in the established middle-income democracies of the US and the UK. The institute believes cancer, along with heart disease and hypertension, do not receive enough attention from lawmakers.

Cardiovascular disease accounts for one in six deaths in South Africa.

Forty-eight percent of all deaths in 2015 were from non-communicable diseases, up from 37% in 2000.

The most common cause of death among Africans is tuberculosis (8.7%), among coloured people, diabetes mellitus (7.7%), among Indian/Asian people, also diabetes mellitus (15.3%), and among white people, ischaemic heart disease (11.2%).

The report also highlights the levels of obesity in South Africa.

It shows that some 65.1% of women in the country are overweight or obese, followed by men (31.2%) and children between 2 and 14 (22.9%)

About 90% of adults regard themselves as fat, while 66.7% are happy with their weight.

Severe obesity increases as wealth levels go up for both men and women. Men (9.5%) and women (28.5%) in the highest wealth quintile therefore suffer from the highest levels of severe obesity.

Viewing obesity by race and sex shows that white males have the highest levels of severe obesity among all men (14.1%), and, among all women, coloured women have the highest levels of severe obesity (25.7%).

The white population has the highest proportion of obese men, at 39.3%.

Among women, it is the Indian/Asian population (49.2%).