Time was when the Big C was as mysterious as the Black Hole. With myths and misconceptions corrected, and with the public more aware of preventive measures, the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO) envisions a country of well-informed Filipinos empowered to battle the Big C
By Gelyka Ruth R. Dumaraos
Around 50 years ago, the practice of medical oncology was considered a novel specialty in the Philippines, where many areas remained uncharted territory. Oncologists trained abroad were only a handful and the knowledge on cancer treatment was limited.
The birth of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO) was a game-changer.
PSMO came into existence in 1969, borne out of a great need to have a group to lead the handful of medical oncologists in the country. At a time when referrals were still sporadic and there was a need to know more about the disease, US-trained doctors—Dr. Reuben Guerrero, Dr. Deogracias Custodio and Dr. Emiliana San Diego decided to organize themselves to form today’s premiere organization for medical oncology specialists.
Dr. Guerrero became the first president; Dr. Custodio, the chairman of the board; and Dr. San Diego, the secretary. The 11 other charter members were Drs. Emilio Abello Jr., Cesar Rosales, Aproniano Tangco, Pacita Lopez, Maria Warren, Lourdes del Rosario, Felipe Manalo, Wilfredo Salvador, Bernardino Agustin, Jesus Millan and Francisco Rillo.
On December 17, 1960, Dr. Fe del Mundo, president of the Philippine Medical Association officially inducted the officers and welcomed the addition of Medical Oncology as a subspecialty.
To promote learning on cancer treatment, the society then collaborated with different medical organizations in the country such as the Philippine College of Surgeons, Philippine College of Radiology, and Philippine College of Chest Physicians.
Martial Law hiatus
In September 1972 when Martial Law was declared, PSMO’s well attended meetings came to a halt. It was a time when activities with two or more people meant an invitation by the military for questioning.
This dark time compelled several charter members to migrate to the United States. For a while, PSMO went into hiatus.
Dr. Reuben Guerrero passed on the torch to Dr. Deogracias Custodio who served as PSMO president from 1972 to 1979.
Despite the exodus of several key members and government restrictions on activities, the remaining medical oncologists in the country still tried their best to advance the specialty in whatever way they could.
First training program at UP-PGH
Dr. Antonio Villalon established the first training program in Medical Oncology at the University of the Philippines – Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) after his training in Australia in 1981. He established the program together with Dr. Bernardino Agustin and Dr. Aproniano Tangco.
When martial rule ended in 1986, Dr. Villalon reactivated the PSMO and became the president of the society.
It was during his term when the by-laws were drafted and implemented. The PSMO became a component society of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) and of the Philippine Medica Association (PMA) under Dr. Villalon’s leadership.
Today, PSMO prides itself as an organization of competent and compassionate medical oncologists inspired and committed to integrate a multidisciplinary approach to the optimal care of the Filipino cancer patient. Just last year, for its 31st Annual Convention, the society partnered with the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and invited doctors and nurses all over the country to encourage the Multidisciplinary Team management of important cancers. On October 10 – 12, 2018, the last chance to catch Best of ASCO 2018 is here in the Philippines. Cutting edge research on most common cancers in the Philippines will be presented by renowned international and regional faculties in this year’s annual convention.
PSMO also positions itself to provide opportunities for continuing medical education and further professional development of its members. To promote the advancement and science of the practice of medical oncology, PSMO encourages research activities via its annual Dr. Reuben C. Guerrero Annual Cancer Research Forum Paper Contest. Furthermore, many of its members participate in international clinical trials.
Apart from these, PSMO encourages nurturing fellowship, openness, and cooperation among its members and to promote the interests and welfare of its members.
Debunking myths and misconceptions
According to Dr. Claire Soliman, current PSMO president, apart from the society’s role of bringing in new education about the specialty to its members, it also plays a vital responsibility in reaching out to the public.
One of its key roles is to advocate for awareness about cancer and encourage early detection and treatment.
She notes that while cancer treatment is available in the country, the government still has to ease the burden of treatment on cancer patients by making treatment accessible to everyone, especially the poor.
The financial burden in cancer patients undergoing various modes of treatment is simply too big that it can easily drain the resources of the average Filipino family.
“The government needs to implement programs to provide patients cure or access to treatment to avoid this potential financial catastrophe arising from this cancer epidemic”, says Dr. Soliman. PSMO continually forges alliances with stakeholders as government agencies and international organizations to achieve its goal in participating in the national cancer control program.
Problem with alternative treatment
It can also be noted that many resort to alternative medicine first rather than seek a physician’s advice. This, according to Dr. Soliman, is an alarming concern.
“Patients prefer going to alternative treatment instead of going into evidence-based internationally-accepted therapies,” she says, adding that many patients only seek expert’s advice when they realize that their cancer is getting worse and sadly, already too late.
Dr. Soliman highlights the need for medical treatment to prevent the rapid growth and spread of the cancer in the body.
“In a study (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 110, Issue 1, 1 January 2018, Pages 121–124), patients with cancer subjected to alternative medicine (such as some kind of herbal medicine) have 2.5x higher chances of death compared to patients who have received conventional cancer treatment (such as operation, chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapy). The magnitude of difference was largest for breast cancer because women who used alternative medicine as initial therapy without conventional treatment had more than a fivefold increased risk of death. Patients with colorectal and lung cancer had a more than fourfold and twofold increase in risk of death, respectively, in this study.”
Another wrong notion that PSMO wants to dispel are folklores that continue to hinder the early detection and treatment of cancer.
“Some cancer patients are afraid of going through surgery. Some think that if they undergo surgical treatment, the disease will just get worse,” she explains.
With this, PSMO is going through an aggressive campaign to debunk myths about cancer treatment and to encourage everyone to have routine medical check-ups.
Currently, PSMO is devoting time and resources to its lay advocacy event “Out to Reach, Out to Teach” which is being conducted all over the country. The activity encompasses lectures on vaccines for cancer prevention, screening techniques for early cancer detection, treatment, and management, proper nutrition and testimonials from cancer survivors. It also includes activities such as zumba, nutrition assessment, and nutrition consultation.
The PSMO has definitely achieved a lot in correcting many of the people’s myths and misconceptions about cancer, and in providing the public with practical knowledge on how to prevent cancer, and detect it at an early stage. Battling the Big C is never a walk in the park, but empowered with the essential information, the public can be in a better position to give it a good fight.
“Battling the Big C is never a walk in the park, but empowered with the essential information, the public can be in a better position to give it a good fight”
Sept 2018 Health and Lifestyle