Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John (FP)??
With cancer featuring prominently among the leading causes of death for more than a decade, this island’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) is encouraging men and women respectively to get their prostate tests and pap smears.
This was the underlying message sent by CMO, Dr. Joy St. John, when she addressed the Awards ceremony of the Cancer Support Services at Divi Southwinds, last weekend.
While urging Government, Non-Governmental Organisations and the private sector to continue reinforcing the message on prevention, Dr. St. John said: "We have been losing some of our sisters and brothers in the prime of their lives to cancer, at the time when their creative talents are at their finest; and their potential to contribute to their families and to national productivity is greatest."
Among the major risk factors she listed for this disease were the use of tobacco, physical inactivity and inappropriate diets. And, it was explained that throughout the world, approximately 30 to 40 per cent of cancer cases could be prevented by changes in diet and related lifestyles.
"This is equally true of Barbados," Dr. St. John stressed, acknowledging that the promotion of healthy lifestyles, through the establishment of the Chronic Non-Communicable Disease Commission and the Task Force on Physical Activity and Exercise were significant developments in Barbados.
"These will play a significant role in reducing the incidence of chronic diseases. Personal discipline and better self-management are pivotal to achieving success in our reduction effort," she emphasised.
The CMO further explained that the health indices for Barbados, over the last five years, had shown cancer to be the second highest cause of mortality and morbidity, with breast cancer accounting for 20 per cent of female cancer deaths.
She noted that in 2008, of the 117 persons diagnosed with breast cancer, 43 females and two males succumbed to the disease. "Cancer of the cervix accounted for 11 per cent of female cancer deaths; while cancer of the uterus, ovary and the female reproductive organs caused a further six per cent. In that same year 106 men died of prostate cancer," she lamented.
The CMO pointed out that, for some time now, the Ministry of Health had been successfully placing special emphasis on the early detection of cancer through routine screening services.
Despite this, however, the top health official has warned that the annual statistics showed women, especially those in the 45+ age group, do not obtain regular pap smears, even though they constitute part of the risk group for cervical cancer. "Routine pap smear checks for women are available at all polyclinics upon request on an annual basis," she stressed.
It was also revealed that the Health Ministry had, from 2006, upgraded its method of pap smear testing "to include the use of the more contemporary liquid-based cytology screening technique" and discussions had been initiated, with stakeholders, regarding the introduction of the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) Vaccine in the public sector.
"This will be considered for administration to young teenage girls to prevent certain types of cervical cancer. To date, this vaccine is available exclusively in the private sector," Dr. St. John announced.
Cancer of the prostate was also described by the CMO as having gained public health significance over the last decade, with 100 to 120 men dying of this disease every year. And, Dr. St. John lauded the Cancer Support Services for having dedicated some of its activities to prostate screening, and implementing the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) Testing Programme in communities.
"This is a screening tool for prostate cancer and it is available to men at a subsidised cost in communities, as well as at the headquarters of the Cancer Support Services," she underlined, emphasising that the effort complemented Government activities for prostate screening at polyclinics.
While commending the Cancer Support Services for assistance given to the Health Ministry, Dr. St. John stated that Government provided it with a yearly subvention of $135,000 and reaffirmed the Ministry’s commitment to implementing an NGO desk "in the shortest possible time frame".??
Cancer services provided at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital were also lauded by the CMO, who mentioned the improved delivery of radiotherapy, the provision of a new consultant dedicated to the department and "special authorisation for staff to work late in an effort to eliminate the backlog of patients to be seen".
She also disclosed that a proposal was being considered for the provision of funds from the capital works programme to fund the purchase of two pieces of major equipment, namely a brachytherapy and gamma camera.
It was further revealed that consideration was being given to the purchase of other equipment, to be used with existing machinery to improve precision and quality.