February 3, 2023
According to the World Health Organization, half the world’s population does not have access to essential health services. At a time when advances in technology and medicine can make a real difference, far too many regions and populations are still left out.
Initiated in 2000 by the Union for International Cancer Control, World Cancer Day on February 4 is a time to advocate for change and rally support for a global community of oncology patients, families, advocates, volunteers, educators, doctors, and researchers. The 2023 campaign theme, “Close the care gap,” focuses on equity and accessibility.
According to Illumina’s chief medical officer, Phil Febbo (himself an oncologist), doctors are painfully aware of the barriers, gaps, and inequities barring progress for patients. “In the cancer clinic, it is heartbreaking when we run out of treatment options for patients,” he says. “It’s ten times worse when cancer patients don’t have access to existing treatments. I left clinical practice and joined Illumina to improve the standard of care and ensure all cancer patients, regardless of their demographic or location, have access to technologies and treatments that improve outcomes.”
On this World Cancer Day, we at Illumina want to recognize a few of the many ways our friends, collaborators, and partners around the globe are working to close the cancer care gap:
By bringing screening to Malaysia’s rural populations
Dr. Melissa Lim Siaw Han, university lecturer/researcher and founding member and committee member of SCAN; Kuching, Malaysia:
“At the Society for Cancer Advocacy and AwareNess (SCAN) Kuching, I am closing the cancer care gap by ensuring that the marginalized population of Sarawak [a state in Malaysia] is not left behind. Rural populations are usually diagnosed at later stages and less likely to receive timely, let alone appropriate, treatments to ensure their chance at survival. It is our duty as patient organizations to ensure that ‘Where you live should not determine if you live.’
“One of our recent pilot projects of an early breast cancer detection outreach program was to Kampung Rantau Panjang on December 10, 2022. Twenty-seven women from the small village turned up for the screening. We focus on breast cancer clinical examination, breast cancer awareness education, high blood pressure, and blood sugar testing. Most Malaysian women living far away from the city are of lower education level and do not receive proper awareness about breast cancer. They are afraid to find out about breast cancer due to their fear of losing their husbands if they fall sick or lose their breasts. We hope to one day diminish this stigma by educating all women that ‘early detection saves lives,’ and often, also their breasts.”
By providing accessible information in Brazil
Simone Lehwess Mozzilli, founder and CEO, Instituto Beaba, São Paulo, Brazil:
“Beaba is an institute with the mission of demystifying cancer and informing patients in an accessible and appropriate way about the disease and treatment, so our main pillars to close the care gap are based on information, communication, and education. Beaba created educational tools, such as the guide “Beaba of Cancer,” distributed free of charge to children and adolescents in oncologic treatment. We inform and engage patients and their families, increasing adherence to their care and improving the quality of life.
“The scientifically validated material has already been distributed to more than 13,000 patients in more than 150 institutions throughout Brazil, which are trained to use the material. The next step will be the development and validation of the guide in Braille, with the support of Illumina.”
By advocating for early prevention in the US
Jody Hoyos, CEO, Prevent Cancer Foundation, Alexandria, Virginia (US):
“The Prevent Cancer Foundation is closing the care gap by advocating for access to new innovations in early detection, such as multi-cancer early detection (MCED) screening tests. Right now, the gap in routine cancer screening is a big one. Routine screening is available for only five types of cancer, which leaves the vast majority of cancers without available screening tests. When it comes to cancer, it’s so important to have time on your side—when cancer is detected early, nine of every 10 cancer patients will live five years or longer.
“MCED is a groundbreaking new type of cancer screening test that utilizes advances in genomic science and machine learning to transform cancer detection. The Prevent Cancer Foundation has been leading more than 400 organizations in advocating for these tests so there will be a pathway in place for Medicare coverage once the tests are approved by the FDA and shown to have clinical benefit. We want seniors, who are at increased risk of cancer because of their age, to have access to these tests as soon as possible.”
By supporting adolescent and young adult patients in Singapore
Dr. Eileen Poon Yi Ling, consultant, Adolescents and Young Adults Oncology (AYAO) Singapore Programme, National Cancer Centre Singapore:
“At National Cancer Centre Singapore – Adolescent and Young Adults Oncology (AYAO), we are closing the care gap by actively seeking to improve the dearth of age-appropriate education for our cancer patients [ages 16 to 39] and health care workers. We have done this by holding our public webinars in the last two years, and just concluding our inaugural international AYAO symposium for health care workers. We will also be launching our mobile application this year to bridge the information gap for our patients!”
By changing the standard of care in Ireland
Professor Owen Smith CBE, University College Dublin and principal investigator, National Children’s Research Centre:
“It was a true pleasure to have been involved in shaping the National Strategy for accelerating genetic and genomic medicine in Ireland. It is now entering the implementation phase, and with all the best will in the world it will take a number of years to be fully realized. In the meantime, we are about to embark on a research study looking at combined whole-genome and whole-transcriptome sequencing (WGTS) in parallel to standard-of-care on all children and young adolescents (zero to 16 years) with cancer in Ireland, to see if the WGTS can replace current testing. This study has taken a number of years in planning with colleagues in health service, academia, and industry. My commitment to this study has been 100%, as I believe WGTS will be the new standard of care for child, adolescent, and young adult cancer.”
By instituting precision oncology in Sweden
Felix Haglund de Flon, associate professor, clinical pathologist; Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden:
“I’m closing the care gap by establishing comprehensive genomic profiling for patients with sarcoma treated at the Karolinska University Hospital. It is a great team effort including doctors, nurses, scientists, and patients to push our understanding of the sarcoma genome and its impact on diagnostics and treatment.”
Visit the World Cancer Day website to learn more, find an organization to support, and join us in thanking our partners and friends. “I applaud these organizations for their work in closing the cancer care gap,” Febbo adds. “Access to care is an issue that remains close to my heart—not just on World Cancer Day.”