Global research study prompts launch of locally driven national anti-stigma cancer campaign

A global cancer research study conducted in a number of low to middle income countries, including South Africa, focused on the general perceptions of cancer, stigma and myths about cancer and opportunities for progress. The study found that communication was critical to decreasing the cancer related stigma, raising awareness around cancer and associated myths about the disease, as well as disseminating cancer education. The study also highlighted the survivor’s personal stories and made use of several mass media channels as key resources for circulating these messages of awareness and education.

Findings by CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation, indicate that more than 40% of South African children with cancer never reach a specialist centre for treatment. This trend can mainly be attributed to a severely low level of awareness about the disease. Further aggravating the situation, is a staggering amount of stigmas surrounding cancer, ultimately translating into delayed diagnoses and subsequent increased mortality.

“A common myth, identified from our work in communities, is that children do not get cancer and, if they do, only white children will suffer from the disease. With a total of 600 South African children diagnosed with the disease each year, approximately half of the collective worldwide figure, the research findings paints a bleak picture for our nation’s youth,” said Francois Peenz, Chief Executive Officer, CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation.

In response, Campaigning for Cancer, PinkDrive, CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation, More Balls than Most and Hospice Palliative Care Association have joined forces with interested stakeholders, in launching a national cancer anti stigma campaign on World Cancer Day (4 February) at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital. The initiative aims to educate, increase awareness, expose myths and encourage early detection amongst South Africans. The campaign is known as the Voice of Cancer Anti Stigma Project.

“Our main objective is to reduce the stigmas associated with cancer through evidence-based, culturally relevant and targeted interventions while significantly raising awareness of the disease, encouraging early detection and promoting screening through existing health programmes as well as multiple mass media channels. A key focus will be placed on South Africa’s urban and peri-urban communities with the various stigmas and myths having a devastatingly strong foothold amongst this population,” explained Lauren Pretorius, Chief Executive Officer of Campaigning for Cancer.

More than 40% of South African children with cancer never reach a specialist centre for treatment.

“Collective action is absolutely key in achieving our objectives. It will not be as simple as launching an awareness campaign. Partnering with local organisations, community leaders, local and provincial Departments of Health, healthcare practitioners and health service facilities, to name a few, will determine the ultimate success and long-term impact of the project. It is encouraging that key stakeholders attended the launch and we are confident that, together, we will be able to create a lasting conversation about the cancer myths and stigmas in South African communities,” stated Noelene Kotschan, Chief Executive Officer of PinkDrive.

The Cancer Anti Stigma Initiative will roll out over three years, commencing in 2014.

“World Cancer Day provided an opportunity to show our commitment to this project and the fight against cancer. We will strive to raise awareness on key issues in the spirit of improving general knowledge about this disease and the myths that surround it together with all willing stakeholders’ support,” concluded Esme Pudule, spokesperson for the Hospice Palliative Care Association.

Cancer is a disease of the wealthy and developed countries

Fact: Cancer does not discriminate. It is a global epidemic, affecting all ages, with low- and middle-income countries bearing a disproportionate burden. Cancer is a global issue and becoming an increasing public health problem in developing countries. There were 12.7 million new cancer cases in 2008 worldwide, of which 5.6 million occurred in economically developed countries and 7.1 million in economically developing countries. The corresponding estimates for total cancer deaths in 2008 were 7.6 million (about 21,000 cancer deaths a day), 2.8 million in economically developed countries and 4.8 million in economically developing countries. In 2008, 63% of global deaths were attributed to non-infectious maladies, such as cancer. The vast majority of these deaths, 80% in fact, occurred in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Cancer now accounts for more deaths worldwide than HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria combined. Of the 7.6 million global deaths from cancer in 2008, more than 55% occurred in less developed regions of the world. By 2030, 60-70% of the estimated 21.4 million new cancer cases per year are predicted to occur in developing countries. Cervical cancer is just one example of the disproportionate burden borne in the developing world. Over 85% of the 275,000 women who die every year from cervical cancer are from developing countries.

Only old people get cancer 

Fact: An analysis of breast cancer trends in the US has found that new cases of advanced breast cancer are increasing among women ages 25 to 39. The finding is especially troubling because breast cancer in younger women tends to be more aggressive and has lower survival rates than breast cancer in older women. A total of between 500 and 600 South African children are diagnosed with cancer each year. This is approximately half the worldwide figure. It is therefore estimated that a further 500 children die of childhood cancer in South Africa each year before being diagnosed or treated. The main reason for this is the lack of awareness of childhood cancers amongst parents on the signs and symptoms of childhood cancer. Many people think they don’t have to worry about developing cancer until they are older. But only about 50 percent of all cancers occur in people over 65. People under the age of 40 often think they have no chance of getting cancer and delay seeing their doctor if they have a worrisome symptom. Some cancers, like testicular cancer or Hodgkin’s disease, are examples of cancers more likely to occur in younger people. These facts are not meant to alarm you — only to make you aware that cancer can occur at any age.

Article was adapted a article.