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The Philippine Society of Medical Oncology educates cancer patients on the importance of making informed decisions about cancer care

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This October the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO) held their annual cancer convention in partnership with the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The convention, held appropriately during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, brings together oncology experts from the Philippines and around the world to discuss the latest research, innovations, and advances in cancer care.

This yearly conference gives cancer care experts a venue to share new initiatives and best practices. Discussions, news, and important research findings are then shared with the media and the public to help push continued cancer education. It is vital to persist in pushing awareness as studies show a steady increase in global cancer incidence and in the Philippines in particular, with roughly 141,021 cases reported in 2018 alone. The top cancer sites for women include breast, cervix, colorectal, lung, and ovary while for men lung, colorectal, prostate, liver, and leukemia remain most common. Among the leading causes of cancer in the country – breast, lung, liver, colorectal, and cervix – three are preventable (lung, liver, and cervix) while the remaining two can be cured if detected early (breast, colorectal).

On October 11, 2018, PSMO held a press conference entitled “Cancer Compass: Guiding Patients Towards the Right Decisions in Cancer Care.”

At the event they shared pertinent information about the current state of cancer in the Philippines, the latest innovations in cancer treatments, step-by-step reminders to consider when deciding on a course of treatment that is both effective and safe, the importance of medicine regulation and approval, and the steps the government is taking to provide more aid to Filipino cancer patients including the National Integrated Cancer Control Act which – if passed into law – will provide cancer centers throughout the country and dedicate funding to cancer treatments and patient assistance.

“Cancer care in the country has continued to expand and improve. The last five years has seen a surge in the availability of world class cancer treatment modalities in the Philippines,” shared Dr. Claire V. Soliman, PSMO President. “Surgeons can now offer more minimally invasive procedures, new state-of-the-art radiation therapies have emerged, and medicines other than chemotherapy and hormonal therapy are now available such as targeted therapy, monoclonal antibodies, and immunotherapy. Gone are the days of patients undergoing chemotherapy and suffering from the side effects such as hair loss, vomiting, or loss of appetite. New medications have less to no side effects and those that remain can be ameliorated with adjunct medications.”

However alongside the advent of new cancer therapies is the emergence of an increasing number of alternative treatments to mainstream cancer care. While these may be enticing to patients, it is still important to fully understand what these alternative therapies can actually do – and what they can’t do – so patients can make educated and informed decisions with their oncologists and doctors about their treatment plan.

“As information dissemination is one of PSMO’s main missions, we strive to arm the public with as much information as possible about cancer treatment modalities,” Dr. Ellie May Villegas, PSMO Multimedia Committee Member explained. “Patients who chose alternative methods of treatment instead of standard research-backed cancer care can face several risks including unknown side effects, safety and effectively issues, quality control concerns, and potentially allowing tumors and cancer to spread past the point that standard treatment may no longer work.”

Patients looking into alternative cancer treatments should also consider if these are Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved. Drugs, devices, and other therapies that are FDA approved have been rigorously tested in clinical tries to ensure that they are both safe and effective. Alternatively, products and therapies that don’t have FDA approval are unlikely to help and may even be harmful or interfere with doctor-prescribed treatments.

Should patients wish to explore alternative methods it is safest to do so along with a standard cancer care plan. “We understand that patients may want to explore alternative treatments. Integrative oncology is a safe way for them to integrate alternative therapies alongside their standard cancer treatment and not in replacement of it,” Dr. Villegas asserted. “Integrative medicine is both a science and philosophy that focuses on the complex health of people with cancer and proposes an array of approaches to accompany conventional therapies of surgery, chemotherapy, molecular therapeutics, and radiotherapy to facilitate health.”

At the end of the day, the most important thing for patients is still education and knowing the facts. The more a patient is empowered with the facts, the more they can make educated decisions with their doctors on the right course of safe and effective treatment for them. With all the new innovations available, cancer need not be a death sentence. Medical and technological advances have resulted in more cancer patients surviving the dreaded disease. Innovative cancer medicines backed by clinical trials, personalized health care, proper and accurate diagnosis, targeted and biologic therapies, multidisciplinary treatment, side-effect management, and major successes in previous cancer cases have all contributed to better outcomes and improved quality of life.

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