A Deadly Disease, A Determined Mind

Written by Angela Alcaraz
Illustration by Cedric David Cortez
Published 2022 March 11

Cancer. A disease that can bring a sense of fear and hopelessness to anyone who has it or to anyone who knows someone with it. Many people around the world have had their lives affected by cancer. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of death and morbidity in the Philippines [1] with 354,398 prevalent cases of cancer [2] and around 92,606 deaths due to cancer occurring in 2020 [2]. The disease itself is the uncontrollable growth of cells in any part of the body which starts to multiply forming tumors [3]. These cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body in a process called metastasis [3].  

With a disease so deadly, it’s no wonder that there are a variety of treatments. Which treatment is used on a patient will depend on what type of cancer they have and its severity [4]. A cancer patient may only have one treatment while another would have a combination of treatments [4]. Some forms of cancer treatments are more common than others. Surgery involves a surgeon physically removing cancer in the patient’s body [4]. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells [4]. Radiation Therapy involves the use of high doses of radiation to kill off cancer cells [4]. Targeted Therapy uses drugs or other chemicals to identify and attack certain types of cancer cells [5]. Immunotherapy essentially amplifies the patient’s immune system to help find and attack cancer cells [6]. Hormone Therapy uses drugs to target certain hormones that affect the growth of cancer cells [7].  

Just as there are various cancer treatments, there are different methods on how to diagnose it as well. Lab tests can help doctors make a diagnosis if there are abnormal levels of certain substances in the body which may be a sign of cancer [8]. Imaging can help doctors locate the presence of tumors inside the patient’s body through pictures generated from various means [8]. A Biopsy is a procedure wherein a surgeon takes a tissue sample from the patient which then undergoes some lab tests to detect if cancer is present or not [8]. These may be some common methods for the diagnosis of cancer, but many researchers are finding new and innovative ways of diagnosis that are, hopefully, more accessible to the public.

One such researcher is Mary Suzette Angeles, a research specialist at the Molecular Diagnostics and Cellular Therapeutics at the Lung Center of the Philippines [9]. She started her career in research when she gained a position at the laboratories of Globetek Science Foundation, Inc. [9]. It was here where she met her mentor, Dr. Samuel Bernal, who inspired her to pursue a research field related to cancer [9]. With her team of researchers, she was able to establish a diagnostic method for cancer called Circulating Tumor Cell Analysis [9]. Circulating tumor cells are cancer cells from a primary tumor that somehow entered into the bloodstream of the patient [10]. Circulating Tumor Cell Analysis is quick, non-invasive, and cost-effective allowing physicians to monitor the progression of the patient’s cancer [10]. Her research team is also studying molecular assays to determine the patient’s suitability for targeted chemotherapy which has the potential to eliminate deaths from the side-effects of commercially used chemo drugs [9]. 

Mary Suzette Angeles and her team of researchers are doing their best to find more low-cost diagnostic tests for cancer so that the patient would have more money in their budget for cancer treatment [9]. Their goal is to make cancer treatment more accessible to those who are in need of it. Cancer treatments can be expensive, so those who need it may not be able to afford it and get the treatment they need. During the pandemic in the Philippines, transportation, financial, and accommodation issues have all contributed in delaying cancer treatment to patients which may lead to disease progression [11]. 

The accessibility to cancer treatments has gotten better over the past few years. In 2019, the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) was enacted and, under it, a framework for all cancer control activities of the government has been established [12]. Under NICCA, the Philippine Cancer Center was created to promote cancer research as well as provide training to medical professionals [12]. NICCA also includes the Cancer Assitance Fund which, in 2021, contained 620 million Php to provide free cancer medicines to patients [13]. There are many stakeholders, both private and public, involved in creating more access to cancer treatments for patients. The government was able to make more accessible to these treatments by addressing the logistics and financing of the treatments. Researchers and scientists, such as Mary Suzette Angeles, can discover new diagnostic methods and treatments that are just as good and high-quality as it is affordable. If we continue our research into this disease, then maybe one day, everyone would have access to its treatments and, perhaps, even its cure.

References

  1. Ngelangel CA, Wang E. Cancer and the Philippine Cancer Control Program. JPN J CLIN ONCOL [Internet]. 2002 April [cited 2022 March 7]; 32 Suppl(suppl 1):S52-61. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11407321_Cancer_and_the_Philippine_Cancer_Control_Program 
  2. World Health Organization. Philippines [Internet]. [place unknown]: WHO; 2020 [update date unknown; cited 2022 March 7]. Available from: https://gco.iarc.fr/today/data/factsheets/populations/608-philippines-fact-sheets.pdf 
  3. National Cancer Institute. What Is Cancer? [Internet]. [place unknown]: National Institutes of Health; [publish date unknown] [updated 2021 May 5; cited 2022 March 7]. Available from:  https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/what-is-cancer 
  4. National Cancer Institute. Types of Cancer Treatment [Internet]. [place unknown]: National Institutes of Health; [publish date unknown] [update date unknown; cited 2022 March 7]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types 
  5. American Cancer Society. Targeted Therapy [Internet]. [place unknown]: ACS; [publish date unknown] [update date unknown; cited 2022 March 7]. Available from: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/targeted-therapy.html 
  6. American Cancer Society. Immunotherapy [Internet]. [place unknown]: ACS; [publish date unknown] [update date unknown; cited 2022 March 7]. Available from: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy.html 
  7. American Cancer Society. Hormone Therapy [Internet]. [place unknown]: ACS; [publish date unknown] [update date unknown; cited 2022 March 7]. Available from:  https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/hormone-therapy.html 
  8. National Cancer Institute. How Cancer Is Diagnosed [Internet]. [place unknown]: National Institutes of Health; [publish date unknown] [updated 2019 July 17; cited 2022 March 7]. Available from:  https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/diagnosis 
  9. Singson K. 6 Filipino female scientists who are improving the way we live [Internet]. [place unknown]: CNN Philippines. [publish date unknown] [updated 2018 April 2; cited 2022 March 8]. Available from: https://www.cnnphilippines.com/life/culture/2018/04/02/filipino-female-scientists.html 
  10. Balmer C. Circulating Tumor Cell Analysis: On the Frontlines of Cancer Diagnosis and Management [Internet]. [place unknown]: American Association for Clinical Chemistry; 2015 July 1 [update date unknown; cited 2022 March 8]. Available from: https://www.aacc.org/cln/articles/2015/july/circulating-tumor-cell-analysis-on-the-frontlines-of-cancer-diagnosis-and-management 
  11. Pandy JG, Maaño O, Balolong-Garcia JC, Datukan JTY. Risk factors and clinical outcomes of systemic cancer treatment delays in Filipino patients with solid tumor malignancy during the COVID-19 pandemic: A single tertiary center study. Cancer Rep [Internet]. 2021 May [cited 2022 March 8];5(2):e1426. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cnr2.1426 
  12. Union for International Cancer Control. Cancer and Universal Health Coverage in the Philippines [Internet]. [place unknown]: UICC; [publish date unknown] [update date unknown; cited 2022 March 8]. Available from: https://www.uicc.org/case-studies/cancer-and-universal-health-coverage-philippines
  13. De la Cruz JM. Cancer patients may now access P620 million in free drugs [Internet]. [place unknown]: Business Mirror; 2021 July 19 [update date unknown; cited 2022 March 8]. Available from: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2021/07/19/cancer-patients-may-now-access-%E2%82%A7620-million-in-free-drugs/

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