Cancer is a leading cause of death globally, bringing pain and sorrow wherever it strikes.
In 2020 alone, cancer accounted for 10 million deaths around the world.
Given that numerous types of cancer are avoidable, and many can be identified early, cancer is a public health problem of the first importance.
Many cancers also require substantial time to develop so it stands to reason that one of the best ways to significantly reduce the incidence and mortality of the disease is through preventative measures and screening. A cancer prevented is better than a cancer cured.
Committed to ending the epidemic, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals has made a sizeable donation to local cancer public benefit organisation (PBO), PinkDrive.
The funds will be used for breast, cervical, lung and prostate cancer screening at selected hospitals and clinics nationwide in February to commemorate World Cancer Day 2024, which was marked on February 4. .
In some cases PinkDrive’s mobile units will be dispatched and trained medical staff will provide mammograms, pap smears, PSA blood tests, lung Screening, ultrasounds and other important screenings.
Commenting on the significance of screening, the medical director: African Cluster at AstraZeneca, Khomotso Mashilane, said: “The fact that the past 30 years saw a doubling in cancer incidence in sub-Saharan Africa, with cancer deaths in the region expected to rise to 1 million per year by 2030, further highlights the need to unite in the fight against cancer.
“Public-private partnerships that advance the roll-out of screening initiatives are paramount in stopping cancer’s unabated rise on the continent.”
She said people often overlooked the gift of good health, assuming it would always be there. However, embracing preventive measures was a potent way to safeguard this invaluable asset.
“Many societies tend to react rather than be proactive, but the heartache of losing a loved one to a potentially preventable illness should serve as a poignant reminder of the significance of regular screening and disease symptom recognition.
“South Africans need to prioritise proactive health measures for a better tomorrow but limited awareness about cancer and high levels of stigma often prevent this happening. This and inadequate access to screening results in late diagnosis, with too many cases being well advanced by the time they are diagnosed.
“While the efficacy of cancer treatments is increasingly impressive, they often come into play when it’s already too late. Cancer is more likely to respond to effective treatment when identified early, resulting in a greater probability of surviving and less expensive treatment.
“As a biopharmaceutical that’s invested in developing life-changing cancer treatments, we are gratified to have partnered with PinkDrive to help increase screening opportunities for patients in the public health sector,” Mashilane said.
Commenting on AstraZeneca’s donation, PinkDrive CEO and founder Noelene Kotschan said: “Reach and presence are the cornerstones of successful cancer screening in South Africa. Mobility means all citizens can be reached and screened through visits to far-flung areas at key venues.
“The concept of mobile units is a revolutionary mechanism. It’s a form of accessibility and convenience and it provides an approachable and timely real-life experience. It’s an innovative concept containing state-of-the-art equipment, bringing first-world screening to previously unreachable citizens of South Africa.
“We are so grateful to be partnering with AstraZeneca. With these funds, PinkDrive can support public health facilities by bringing critical cancer screening to communities with little or no access to these services.”
Local data from Statistics SA indicates that, in South Africa in 2018, females accounted for 51.3% of cancers diagnosed in South Africa, while males accounted for 4.,6%. The average age at diagnosis was 59 for females and 64 for males. However, the average age at death due to cancer was 62 for females and 64 for males, suggesting that cancer in males may be diagnosed at more advanced stages than in females.
The highest number of cancers diagnosed among males included prostate, colorectal, lung and non-melanoma skin cancers. Among females, the most prevalent cancers included breast, cervical, colorectal and non-melanoma skin cancers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the increasing adoption of behaviours such as smoking, the harmful use of alcohol, inadequate intake of fibre, fruit and vegetables and lack of physical exercise are major contributing factors for increased risk of cancer.
“Obesity is a well-established risk factor for multiple cancers, and healthy eating and regular exercise are an important part of prevention.
“A comprehensive public awareness effort highlighting these facts, plus the importance of regular screening, could lead to a tangible decrease in the occurrence of cancer. We are confident that PinkDrive is well equipped to distil these and other educational messages at a grass-roots level,” said Mashilane.
She added that it was important to highlight that concerted efforts in Africa to prevent and treat malaria had led to a decline in malaria-related death rates – so much so that the number of deaths from cancer surpasses those from malaria.
“Cancer-related mortality rates are increasing across the continent and they are expected to double in the next two decades.
“In the battle against cancer, it’s therefore essential to broaden our strategy, placing increased emphasis on preventive interventions and screening,” Mashilane said.
For more information about PinkDrive screening initiatives, visit: https://pinkdrive.org/