The cost of treating cancer has risen significantly in South Africa in recent years, as more and more people are being diagnosed with the disease. This is largely due to the rise in ‘lifestyle cancers’ as a direct result of the increasing adoption of ‘Westernised’ lifestyles.
According to Melvyn Freeman, head of noncummicable diseases for the Department of Health, the state is considering a “sugar tax” to encourage South Africans to consume less sugar as a means to drive the preventable cancer campaign which also includes consuming less alcohol and tobacco products.
Graham Anderson, Principal Officer of Profmed, the medical scheme designed exclusively for graduate professionals, commends the Department of Health for these efforts saying poor lifestyle choices have increased the prevalence of lifestyle diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
“The consumption of sugar has long been recognized as a direct cause of obesity and diabetes. However, it may be surprising for some people to learn that there is a direct correlation between sugar rich diets and the development of many common cancers. Nearly 13 million people are being diagnosed with some form of cancer every year, and while environmental factors can account for a percentage of those cancer diagnoses, lifestyle and diet remain the primary causes of many of the most common forms of cancer,” explains Anderson.
He adds: “Healthcare costs in South Africa have risen substantially over the last few years and there is no sign of this trend slowing down, unless people start managing their risks better by leading healthier lifestyles.”
“One of the biggest problems we face, yet it does not get the same degree of attention as smoking and drinking, is the health impact of poor diets. With fast food often being more convenient and sometimes a cheaper alternative, it is fast becoming a regular and popular choice for consumers. This can have a hugely negative impact on someone’s health as the oil in fast foods tends to be reused a number of times, resulting in increased carcinogens, which are a direct cause of cancer,” says Anderson.
A report by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) warned that incidents of cancer worldwide will grow 75% by the year 2030, led by an increase in the number of cases in developing countries.
Anderson notes that cancer is a Prescribed Minimum Benefit (PMB), which means it must be funded by a medical aid scheme. “A medical scheme does not make the decision on how a patient should be treated but it does engage with specialist radiologists and oncologists to advise them on the most appropriate course of treatment that the scheme should be funding.”
“There is little that can be done to reduce rising oncology costs. As treatments improve, so does the number of cancer survivors, which increases the overall cost of care. However, with more cancers arising as a result of poor choices it is becoming increasingly important for people to understand the ramifications of a poor diet, lack of exercise or excessive alcohol consumption and to make the necessary changes to their lifestyle,” concludes Anderson.