Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral on Thursday expressed concern over the grim reality of escalating cancer cases in the country, particularly lung cancer, the number one cancer affliction among males that is often caused by smoking.
She vowed to look into the progress of the graphic health warnings bill pitched by anti-smoking advocates before Congress.
“Let’s see how far it has gone and how we can implement it as soon as possible,” Cabral said.
Health experts, particularly the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance of the Philippines (FCAP), have been pushing for a bill that would put picture-based warnings on cigarette packages but it failed to secure the nod of lawmakers.
This led former Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III to study the issuance of an administrative order that would allow the use of graphic health warnings in cigarette packages as part of the Philippines’ compliance to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a treaty adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2003.
Cancer is the third leading cause of deaths among Filipinos and more than 50,000 die every year due to different kinds of cancer, according to Cabral.
“It is growing by five percent every year… at present, there are more than 50,000 dying every year,” she said.
“Cancer is a lifestyle disease along with cardiovascular disease. Lung cancer is most frequently caused by smoking and the most important way to avoid this cancer is to stop smoking,” she added.
Lung cancer has been identified as the most common among males, while breast cancer is the number one cancer type among women.
Aside from smoking, Cabral also blamed the increasing cancer cases on the ballooning population.
Cancer is also one of the most common killers of children, Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) Director Dr. Julius Lecciones revealed.
Although there are a small number of children detected with cancer, Lecciones said many of them are dying.
“So while the number of children who have the disease is small, it accounts for disproportionate higher number of deaths.”
But cancer in children is curable, Lecciones said.
In other countries, the health expert said 8 out of 10 children can be cured. But in the Philippines, only two out of 10 are cured because many of them are not able to go for treatment during the early stages of the disease and many of them abandon treatment.
Lecciones said the DoH is creating treatment facilities in the various DoH hospitals to cater to children with cancer after it successfully slashed the prices of cancer drugs by more than 50 percent through the Greater Mediated Access Program and the Maximum Drug Retail Price (MDRP) schemes.
“The cost of procurement before was P50 million but because of the programs, it was reduced to P13 million.
The drug prices were reduced by more than 50 percent,” Lecciones said.
The PCMC Director said 60 percent of cancer among kids is hematologic malignancies or blood cancers. Leukemia is number one in the list although it is also the most curable.
“You can attain 90 percent or 9 out of 10 children with leukemia can be cured. And you only need simple drugs to do this,” he said.