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Lung cancer mortality in South Africa is increasing due to lack of knowledge and accessibility

The trouble is, most South Africans have limited access to lung cancer treatment or even diagnosis. Picture by Anna Tarazevich/Pexels.

The trouble is, most South Africans have limited access to lung cancer treatment or even diagnosis. Picture by Anna Tarazevich/Pexels.

Published Jan 12, 2023


The National Cancer Strategic Framework states that cancer in South Africa is a growing national health and socio-economic concern.

It has been acknowledged that it is avoidable through immunisation, dietary changes, early discovery, and prompt treatment, alleviating needless suffering.

These five adult cancer types have been named as priority based on data from this same report and the National Cancer Registry (NCR) reporting of national cancer incidences: lung cancer, colorectal cancer, cervical carcinoma, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.

According to CAN/SA, lung cancer is the most prevalent disease in the world, with 2.1 million new cases and 1.8 million fatalities in 2018.

Lung cancer is one of the top 3 malignancies in men and women in South Africa, respectively.

This underlines the necessity of continuing to spread awareness about lung cancer and highlights the fact that it should not be treated as a single disease.

Smokers and non-smokers alike are susceptible to lung cancer.

Due to the increased frequency and accumulation of mutations in their lung cells, smokers are more likely to acquire lung cancer.

However, while DNA repair mechanisms are efficient, not every smoker will get lung cancer.

It’s vital to understand that about 8% of lung cancer cases are genetically predisposed, even though smoking continues to be the leading cause of lung cancer.

Covid-19 made the world stand up and take notice of the deadly nature of respiratory diseases.

As much as we are still in a pandemic, lung cancer remains one of those insidious diseases that don’t get diagnosed even when symptoms show up.

When someone coughs, lung cancer is never the first thought.

The trouble is, most South Africans have limited access to treatment or even diagnosis. Picture by Anna Tarazevich/Pexels.

Most people tend to attribute it to an allergy, asthma, cold, or flu and try to bear with it until the cough ‘goes away’.

It’s only when the severity of the cough escalates or there is an onset of chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, tiredness, and coughing of blood that they finally go to see a healthcare professional, said Dr Jan Pinchevsky, the Oncology Lead at Takeda.

He continues by saying that this is extremely dangerous for many South Africans.

Too many people have the ingrained assumption that lung cancer is not a condition that can affect them.

Before they realise it, they receive their final diagnosis, and the outlook may not always be good.

As with any disease, lung cancer can have fatal implications if diagnosed too late and treated too little.

“The trouble is, most South Africans have limited access to treatment or even diagnosis,” said Pinchevsky.

Pinchevsky draws attention to the fact that oncology centres are typically only found in or near big cities or centres.

In rural locations, primary care clinics and district hospitals don't often deal with oncological disorders, thus the illness is pushed to the back of our minds.

Furthermore to add to the many compounded issues that the healthcare system faces, clinics and hospitals are too far away for too many.

Travel becomes a barrier getting in the way of proper screening, diagnosis, and even treatment.

“People would rather risk lung cancer than lose an income.

“That is a reality that is only going to become starker as the economic situation continues to decline.”

Even though it’s critical to improve public understanding of cancer risk factors, cancer screening procedures, and access to high-quality medical care.

Lung cancer diagnosis requires a team of skilled medical specialists, which is why mass screening is so difficult.

It is a time-consuming and expensive process, said the Head of Oncologist Lead at Takeda.

“Strategic public-private collaborations are required to close the gap and address the long-dormant lung cancer issue.

“The financial costs of a cancer diagnosis impact the family, community, and the country as a whole.”