Cancer on the rise in PNG

CANCER is on the rise in Papua New Guinea but only 400 of an estimated 2,000 people with the disease are treated each year at the country’s only cancer centre at Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae, a cancer specialist says.
Most of these cases being treated were already at an advanced stage. Early detection was the best hope for available treatments in the country to cure cancer patients but that was not always the case, PNG’s only radiation oncologist Dr John Niblett said after the Cancer Society’s golf fund-raising event last Friday.
The Daffodil Day event, sponsored by Oil Search and Mapai Transport, raised K210,000 to assist cancer patients at the centre.
“We treat in Lae approximately 400 cases a year. This is only the tip of the iceberg as I would estimate 2,000 plus patients around the country who need treatment,” Niblett said.
“Many patients are too advanced with the disease so they don’t come to us for treatment. They remain at their local hospital or go home to die.”
“Cancer of the cervix is the most common cancer that we see in Lae at the moment. Almost half of our patients having radiotherapy treatment have cervical cancer.”
For most of them, there was no alternative treatment, he said. Those in the early stages of the disease could have surgery but this was a special surgical procedure that only a few surgeons can perform.
However, most patients being treated at the centre were in the third stage of the four cancer development stages.
“That means there is a large tumor in the patient that often causes severe and catastrophic bleeding.”
He said there were many areas of improvement for the centre.
“We can treat a lot more patients in Lae if we have more radiotherapists, more machines and backup such as nurses. We are operating with a skeleton staff with just myself as the specialist doctor, two registrars and four nurses.
“The three radiotherapists we have operate the high voltage cobalt machines and do the planning for radiotherapy,” Niblett said.

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