The cancer burden continues to grow in the sub-Saharan region, exerting tremendous physical, emotional and financial strain on individuals, families, communities and health systems. Many health systems in low and middle income countries are least prepared to manage this burden, and large numbers of cancer patients in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to timely, high-quality diagnosis or treatment. The consequence is avoidable suffering and deaths from cancer.
Solutions exist and SsahiPath can help. Cancer, when identi ed early, is
more likely to respond to effective treatment, resulting in a greater probability of surviving
as well as less morbid and less expensive treatment. The value of detecting cancer early is
clear, and significant improvements can be made in the lives of cancer patients.
There are two distinct strategies that promote early detection, and health planners must understand their difference, relevance to particular cancer types, system requirements and impact to develop the most effective programmes. Early diagnosis identi es symptomatic cancer cases at the earliest possible stage compared to screening that seeks asymptomatic cancer or pre-cancerous lesions in a target population without symptoms.
Improving early diagnosis capacity is an important strategy to cancer control in all settings, strengthening health systems and providing universal health coverage. It is founded on core principles in delivering clinical services that include community empowerment and engagement, improving health literacy, access to primary care, diagnostic capacity including pathology, strong referral mechanisms, coordination and accessing timely treatment. Effective cancer care requires that these services are accessible, well coordinated and provided without delay.
The focus of cancer early diagnosis is people who have symptoms and signs consistent with cancer. The objective, for SsahiPath, is to identify the disease at the earliest possible opportunity and link to diagnosis and treatment without delay. When done promptly, cancer may be detected at a potentially curable stage, improving survival and quality of life. There are three steps to early diagnosis:
There is consistent evidence that the early diagnosis of cancer, combined with accessible, affordable effective treatment, results in improvements in both the stage of cancer at presentation and mortality from cancer. It is also well established that reducing delays in care can have a significant impact on improving outcomes. While improving early diagnosis generally improves outcomes, not all cancer types benefit equally. Cancers that are common, that can be diagnosed at early stages from signs and symptoms and for which early treatment is known to improve the outcome are generally those that benefit most from early diagnosis. Examples include the types of cancers most prevalent in the sub-Saharan region, such as, cervical, colorectal and oral cancers.
At SsahiPath, we view screening as a process not as administering a particular test, examination or procedure. The screening process includes a system of informing and inviting the target population to participate; administering the screening test; following-up with test results and referral for further testing among those with abnormal test results; and ensuring timely pathologic diagnosis, staging and access to effective treatment with routine evaluation to improve the process. We believe that a screening program should encompass the process from invitation to treatment and requires planning, coordination and monitoring and evaluation.