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Cancer survivors exempt from preventive medical fees

By SOPHIE MCCARRICK [email protected]

Following an alert from the Liga Portuguesa Contra O Cancro (Portuguese League Against Cancer – LPCC) much needed attention was brought to the requirements of cancer survivors and the prevention of cancer throughout Portugal at a ‘Conference on Cancer Survivors’ held on May 28 at the Fundação Calouste  Gulbenkian in Lisbon.

Present at the conference, Minister of Health, Paulo Macedo, assured that cancer patients who have suffered from the disease and survived for five years or more post diagnosis will be exempt from all check up fees collected by the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (National Health Service) that they may normally expect to face.

He also confirmed that these exemptions will be applicable to those who have undertaken radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments.

“Regardless of a patient’s economic circumstance, they will be required to carry out follow-up appointments, scans and other tests that will help to rule out any possibilities of relapses or late complications, and they will not pay for this burden,” he said.

According to the LPCC, a long-term survivor of cancer is an individual, who after five years of the detection of cancer, has experienced no further developments of the disease.

Although surviving the illness is the hoped for outcome, in practice, more and more cancer survivors are struggling to get back on track with their lives, following cancer.

Everyday life situations including finding work, social aspects, ability to reproduce, general mental health and more, may be affected, and the LPCC is now trying to make any issues that may arise, easily resolvable.

Carlos Oliveira, president of the LPCC, stressed at the conference that those who survive the disease “have problems of integration into society, as well as accessibility to health care that they generally continue to need.”

A forecast by the group expects that by 2030 Portugal’s overall number of cancer patients will increase by 25% and simultaneously a decrease in mortality figures will be experienced, therefore increasing the number of survivors requiring attention.

Anticipating financial issues and legal problems, the president said: “More and more cases of survivors experiencing problems are expected to occur; therefore it is essential that the social, medical and psychological life of a cancer survivor is discussed, and a solution is found and understood by all in Portugal.”

Also present at the conference, Minister of Justice, Paula Teixeira Cruz, said: “these patients may be permanently stigmatised because they have suffered from the disease that has affected them and may still possibly affect them.”

“The Justice Department has assessed the measures that should be taken to protect the rights of cancer survivors, and they should be entitled to a remedy. The overall aim is that the survivors of this ordeal can maintain levels of consistent protection after suffering the illness,” she concluded.  

Meanwhile, the LPCC released an alert to say that there should be higher awareness throughout Portugal given to the importance of regular screening for breast, colon and cervical cancer.

In the view of Carlos Oliveira he believes that the only way to reduce cancer mortality rates is through screenings and early diagnosis of the disease. “National screening coverage for colon cancer is the poorest, and in the central zone of Portugal exists only at a total of 40 centers. As for breast cancer, screening available in Lisbon and Setubal is very poor, and will take some time to build up, but is much needed,” he said.

Carlos Oliveira believes that “cervical screening coverage for the country is the highest, and is very good in the central zone and the Alentejo and Algarve areas. However, again Lisbon and the Vale do Tejo have next to nothing.”

“It is urgent that a national policy to implement a compulsory screening throughout the entire country, especially for colon cancer, as in recent years an increase in mortality from bowel cancer, in both sexes has been registered,” he concluded.

The Minister of Health brought the conference to a close by stating that “at this point, oncology has priority.”