Working towards “a future where disease is a thing of the past” – in order to take a step towards this goal, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Philippines, will again be supporting the initiatives of the Philippine Urological Association (PUA). For 2022, PUA is ramping up education on one specific type of cancer that both patients and healthcare personnel still lack ample awareness on: prostate cancer, one of the top five cancers affecting Filipino males across the country (WHO Globocan Report 2020 – Philippines, March 2021).
“A lot of prostate cancer cases are detected late because of this lack of education and awareness, but prostate cancer can be ‘curable’ if diagnosed early enough,” says Dr. Erwin Benedicto, J&J Southeast Asia portfolio medical director. “There are also new therapies now available, even to advanced prostate cancer patients, that do not require chemotherapy.”
Evidence of this can be seen in the comparison of prostate cancer mortality rates between developed and less developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region, adds Benedicto. According to the World Health Organization, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan have seen a steady decline in their prostate cancer mortality rates, while rates in the Philippines and even Thailand have largely increased over recent years.
“Refinements to treatment and management of early-stage prostate cancers, and easier access
to these treatments in more developed countries would be the key drivers to lower mortality rates in these developed countries,” Benedicto adds.
Here in the Philippines, Dr. Aristotle Bernard M. Roque, 2022 President of Philippine Urological Association says that the early signs and symptoms of prostate cancer are often mistaken for signs of aging, which explains why most cases detected are already in the advanced stages.
“A significant number of elderly male patients are hesitant on getting a prostate examination, even when if it is recommended in executive check-ups. DRE or digital rectal examination is an accepted standard and readily available way of screening for prostate cancer,” adds Roque.
In terms of public programs and policies, a national information campaign for prostate cancer has yet to be initiated, like the ones being rolled out for breast and lung cancer. Advanced prostate cancer can also be challenging to treat as it tends to progress quicker, and treatments for these stages are not typically covered by PhilHealth.
“Novel treatments for advanced prostate cancer are also not part of the drug formulary so these
medicines cannot be availed of at government facilities, only chemotherapy is available,” explains Roque. “Not all patients would tolerate chemotherapy well, especially if the patient is already weak.”
In time for Prostate Cancer Awareness Month this September, J&J Philippines is providing support to the PUA’s Cancer Committee to help lessen the burden of this disease on Filipino families. Last September 10, a free online forum was held via Facebook Live (@puaprostatecancerawareness), where topics such as prostate cancer signs and symptoms, risk factors, and available support were discussed. This was then followed by free online consultations for men 50 years old and above, conducted by different institutions specializing in urologic care in September 17.
Aside from these activities, free training for primary care physicians on Prostate Cancer Early Detection and Screening will be provided by PUA throughout the whole of September (visit their Facebook page or www.puaweb.org for more information).
“Armed with the right knowledge, we can fight prostate cancer and improve the survival of those suffering from this disease,” says Benedicto.