Cancer trends in Saint Lucia worrying

Dr Owen Gabriel speaks about St Lucia’s alarming cancer statistics.

Dr Owen Gabriel speaks about St Lucia’s alarming cancer statistics.

Even with Cancer being the number one cause of death in Saint Lucia, we do not focus enough attention on it as we should,” Saint Lucian Oncologist Dr Owen Gabriel told the STAR on Monday February 4th, “World Cancer Day 2013.”
With the international community focusing on “Target 5” of the World Cancer Declaration: “Dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer . . .,” here in Saint Lucia World Cancer Day was pretty much low keyed.
The four myths and misconceptions about the disease according to the International organization include myth one; that cancer is just a health issue, the second, that it is a disease of the wealthy, elderly and developed countries, myth three, that it is a death sentence  and the fourth myth; “cancer is my fate.” However, demystifying these and other myths in Saint Lucia has proven most perplexing, given our limited resources and lack of initiative when it comes to tackling the issues as a priority according to Dr. Gabriel. “More so, with our limited human and technological resources, it is even more challenging,” Gabriel, who is chairing an upcoming cancer conference here, told the STAR.
The fact that the new hospital has no designated space for cancer care is one area which concerns Dr Gabriel. “What this means is that we will continue to do what is done at Victoria Hospital which is to have patients spread all over, making it difficult to implement tailored oncology offering the most efficient treatment,” he says.
The Cancer figures in Saint Lucia are staggering. In 2010 recorded the island as seventh in the world with the leading cause of death as prostate cancer at a rate of 23.75% (per 100,000). Breast cancer was second (14.59) and Lymphomas third.
Although Saint Lucia is not faring well in the area of cancer the rest of the region is also grappling with issues there too. Research has shown that Cancer incidence and mortality in the Caribbean generally follow known patterns of association with economic development, infectious agents, and racial/ethnic origin. The area of research is one of the mandates of the Caribbean Association of Oncology and Hematology (CAOH) formed in 2005.
On Monday February 4th World Cancer Day not only did CAOH express its concern for the growing trend in Saint Lucia and the rest of the region but announced plans for the hosting of its sixth annual conference here in May, 2013. The event was launched at the Coco Creole conference room, Rodney Bay.
The Caribbean Association of Oncology and Hematology (CAOH) is a non-profit organization formed in April 2005, geared towards the continued education of physicians and other health care professionals in the Caribbean and Central America.
The organization’s focus is on detection, treatment, research, upgrading medical and patient care and creating awareness of treatment available.
According to Abraham Weekes, the 2013 conference to be hosted by Saint Lucia comes at an opportune moment; “as in recent times we are seeing an increase in cancer cases on our island.” Weekes is the senior pharmacist at Victoria Hospital and CAOH scientific consultant. “The staging of this conference shows the commitment of health care professionals on the island,” he says.
The May conference will feature delegates from all spheres of cancer care including surgeons, pathologists, pharmacists, nurses, medical and radiation oncologists from across the Caribbean and Central America.
Sessions will be open to members of the public who are living with or caring for persons living with cancer.
Alicia Eugene representing the Ministry of Health said on Monday that over the last decade the ministry has had to come to terms with the ever changing landscape of health, health care and meeting the challenges of the international health regulations. From battles with TB, leprosy, measles and mumps in the early days to issues of increasing the number of public health care workers, the latter she says still plagues the ministry.
“Although some of these issues continue to plague us and as our country continues to develop in ways of western civilization, we now have to contend with the many chronic illnesses like diabetes hypertension, heart diseases and malignant neoplasms or cancer,” Eugene said.
“So today our focus is on the cancers which currently ranked as the first cause of death in Saint Lucia,” she said adding that reliable information has revealed that these are lifestyle diseases triggered in the main by poor eating habits. “However, there are still some unexplained phenomena and unanswered questions which may have to do with non- biodegradable pesticides in our soil, in our water and as well as our exposure to toxic chemicals. These are the queries for our medical personnel to research,” she put forward as she pledged the Ministry of health’s support for the upcoming cancer conference.
Serving as chairperson of the organizing committee Dr. Owen Gabriel said at the launch of the conference that it has been a journey of small steps towards better treatment and cancer care in Saint Lucia and the region. “There is no doubt in my mind that after five successful conferences, that the Saint Lucia event will be the most exciting, the most captivating and absolutely the most inspiring of them all,” Gabriel intoned. He went on to explain that the event will not just be about speeches and scientific data, but engaging patients and persons caring for cancer patients as well.
“After years of talking down to our patients, unsuccessfully I might add, we believe it is time for our patients to speak to us. Cancer is a dreadful disease and in our conditions of impoverished territories we must unify our efforts and move decisively and assertively,” he added. Gabriel called on the community through stakeholders, patients, families, medical practitioners, Governments, NGO’s and the public at large to take the lead in playing their part where Cancer is concerned.
The cancer conference in May will also work with experts in Cuba and Martinique towards closer collaborations and inaugurate an advisory committee mandated to advise Governments in relation to standardization of treatment and care protocols in the region.
With the theme of “dare to care” the 2013 CAOH Conference will be held in Saint Lucia May 7-9 and is being backed with financial support from ECFH.

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