Lymphoma can be cured if diagnosed early, additional government support urged

THE fear of cancer, or more popularly called the “Big C,” being fatal has been assuaged by a health expert, who advised the public that not all cancer cases are deadly, like lymphoma.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in the immune system’s infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes. If diagnosed early and treated well, a patient can defeat the cancer, according to Dr. Jay Ty Datukan, a hematologist-oncologist from St. Luke’s Medical Center.

During a recent webinar organized by Lymphoma Philippines and Carewell Community Foundation marking this year’s World Lymphoma Awareness Day, Dr. Datukan said the survival rate for lymphoma is higher than the other cancers if detected ahead of its severity and given the right cure. 

Lymphoma 101

LYMPHOCYTES can be found in the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and other areas of the body. These cells change and increase out of control due to lymphoma.

Dr. Datukan classified the latter as Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin (indolent or aggressive). Common symptoms of lymphoma, he noted, are swollen glands, enlarged lymph nodes, chills, weight loss, fatigue, and sweating even at night.

He emphasized that all these symptoms are more likely due to other conditions, such as an infection, hence, getting checked by a doctor is important for proper diagnosis.

Treating lymphoma depends on the specific type and stage of the disease, as well as the general health condition of the patient.

 The hematologist-oncologist pointed out that no active treatment will be given for indolent lymphoma. A patient is monitored for any indications for cure, Dr. Datukan stressed.

Lack of awareness

IN the Philippines, lymphoma is among the top 15 cancers, affecting around 11,000 Filipinos annually. Authorities estimate a larger number of patients are left undiagnosed due to lack of awareness. 

 “Lymphoma exists,” said Jeanne, a lymphoma cancer survivor. “For someone who was diagnosed with Lymphoma and who knew nothing about the disease…if people knew more about this cancer that can actually affect even the younger ones, maybe we could have been more aware of our health [and] what the symptoms that Lymphoma can do to our body.”

Such is the mission of Lymphoma Philippines, a nonprofit organization for lymphoma patients, survivors, and caregivers. This group aims to spread awareness on medically approved lymphoma-related campaigns nationwide. 

The lack of information is what inspired cancer survivor Jheric Delos Angeles to establish with his wife Anna this community of Filipino patients and their family members to educate more people and provide much needed support to those in need, including fighting for better healthcare.

“It is an unimaginably difficult journey for patients and their loved ones who are living with cancer. Having gone through it myself, a strong support system is crucial in the journey and we at Lymphoma Philippines are committed to lending help however possible,” he said.

Call for help

SURVIVING lymphoma is another struggle that patients must deal with. This ordeal was made more difficult by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This holds true for lymphoma cancer patient Rhiz, who shared her experience living with the disease amid the ensuing health crisis. She recalled: “It is extremely hard. The agony is double. During the pandemic, going to the hospital was difficult and scary for cancer patients like me. As it is, we cannot afford to get Covid.”

Sharing the same sentiment with her was Christine, a lymphoma patient caregiver who faced a big challenge with regards to hospital visits. On top of that, she cited that the patients’ income was cut off for a time during the lockdown periods, so they had to rely on their savings to continue medication. Because of this, she felt sorry for those indigent patients who, despite the great chance of surviving such illness, had succumbed to death since they had no means to undergo proper treatments.

Even if lymphoma is a curable cancer if diagnosed early, access to treatment modalities is a challenge as their costs can range from P1 million to P3.5 million depending on the hospital and treatment protocol.

With this is mind, lymphoma cancer survivors Alexa Fontanilla and Tristan Zantua appealed for additional government support, to save more lives, especially those who could not afford its treatment.

It can be recalled that two years ago former President Rodrigo Duterte enacted the National Integrated Cancer Control (NICC) Act (Republic Act 11215) that institutionalizes a “national integrated” program to control the “Big C.” Signed into law on February 14, 2019, it aims to provide cancer patients better access to affordable and quality health care services. 

The NICC, likewise, created the cancer assistance fund, which will support the cancer medicine and assistance treatment program and mandated the Philippine Health Insurance Company or PhilHealth to expand benefit packages for all types and stages of cancer.

Unfortunately, the P500 million fund intended for cancer patients  was not included in the proposed 2023 national budget. The Department of Budget and Management slashed it with other health-related spending of the Department of Health (DOH) next year. DOH Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire appealed to lawmakers to restore such appropriations. 

Image credits: storyset_freepik.com


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