CANSA MLCCP Volunteers attending a five-day Palliative Care training, to equip them with the skills and knowledge for Palliative Care services as they will be providing such education and awareness to community members in the five identified communities as per the MLCCP project.

CANSA Undertaking Lung Cancer Research with UKZN

CANSA is involved in a three-year research partnership with UKZN’s Multinational Lung Cancer Control Programme (UKZN-MLCCP) under the leadership of Dr Themba Ginindza and other co-principal investigators.

The goal is to improve knowledge and awareness of lung cancer, its risk factors and symptoms, and to positively influence community attitudes towards lung cancer screening and diagnosis.

A further aim is to increase the uptake of lung cancer screening in high-risk groups through community mobilisation at identified sites with community screening services as provided by the project team leaders.

CANSA will focus on establishing community screening and support services, provide multi-level training for fieldworkers, promote palliative care services for lung cancer patients and track patient outcomes.

CANSA’s Manager in KwaZulu-Natal Ms Lorraine Govender elaborated: ‘Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths among men and women worldwide – in South Africa it is the number one cause! The SA National Cancer Registry reported that in 2017 lung cancer was the third most diagnosed cancer among men and the fifth most among women. According to Bruni, et al. (2019), the 2018 burden of lung cancer in South Africa was estimated at 8 239 cases and 7 770 deaths. Lung cancer remains one of the top cancers among men and women in South Africa.’

Patients often present to health facilities with advanced symptoms of the disease. This project hopes to address the identified gaps in lung cancer awareness and early diagnosis through a multi-faceted and sustained awareness programme targeted at communities located in Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

‘Public private partnerships of this nature strengthen CANSA’s footprint in communities at grassroots level allowing more communities to benefit from education and awareness on common cancers affecting the South African public. Early detection can save lives,’ said Govender.

The programme also aims to screen people and educate communities about symptoms and empower them with information to promote early awareness and detection. Referrals will be made to appropriate clinics or hospitals for further investigation and medical care. The programme will make use of trained volunteers to engage with communities on various platforms, including talks, events, exhibitions in public spaces, videos in health and clinic facilities, media interviews, social media and print media.

Said UKZN’s Mr Siyabonga Dlamini: ‘The overall goal of the MLCCP is to improve access to early diagnostic services for lung cancer by addressing the barriers of cancer care through working with communities and the Ministries of Health in the identified regions in South Africa, Kenya, Swaziland, and Tanzania with a potential for scale-up. We’re excited to partner with CANSA in Phase Two of the programme. We need to positively influence attitudes towards lung cancer screening and improve lung cancer screening in risk groups.’

The main risk factor internationally in lung cancer is tobacco smoking. Lung cancer is still more common among men but the incidence among women has jumped as increased numbers have started smoking.

However, while lung cancer is relatively common among smokers, it is not limited to them, as people who do not smoke can also develop lung cancer. About 10–15% of people who get lung cancer have never smoked.

Other risk factors include the effects of past cancer treatment and exposure to asbestos, radon gas and – in very rare cases – substances such as uranium, chromium and nickel. Lung cancer is not infectious and can’t be transmitted to others.

‘Volunteers are currently attending palliative care training conducted by a Bristol-Meyers Squibb Foundation partner who is an ardent advocate of palliative care in South Africa,’ said Govender. ‘Certain sites in Durban and Pietermaritzburg have already been identified for the awareness and screening phase.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied