The South African government will soon launch one of the largest cancer awareness campaigns on the continent following a spike in the number of cancer patients in the country. The cost and access to oncology treatment is one of the major challenges that cancer patients are facing in South Africa.

A South African man or woman with colon cancer would need to have close to a million rand for treatment. A woman with breast cancer would need half a million rand to complete treatment .

“There is this new drug for breast cancer called Herceptin. It costs R24 000 per dose, and the course of treatment is 17 doses. Basically you are asking a woman with breast cancer to pay R24 000 seventeen times. That’s impossible for most women. It’s R910 000 just to go through a course of treatment if you’ve got Colorectal cancer, said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi .

That is a view also shared by the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) which believes access to and the treatment for cancer is inaccessible to majority of the patients.

“We often hear in the media of malfunctioning equipment, radiotherapy machines not working, mammogram machines not working. We hear of this everyday. Also we know that the cost of oncology drugs in our country is huge and although there’s so many new treatment biologics that are in place, we don’t have access to them because of the cost of it. So oncology drugs are a huge problem, and the high cost of it, “said National Co-ordinator at CANSA Lorraine Govender.

Five most common cancers devastating the country are breast and cervical cancers in women, lung cancer in both men and women, particularly those who smoke, prostate cancer in men, and Colorectal  in both men and women.

Motsoaledi says they will take lessons from the fight against HIV/AIDS in the country.

“We are faced with a crisis. An epidemic of cancer. We’ve been carrying a huge epidemic of HIV, we can’t afford an epidemic of cancer. It’s quite bad because cancer is just exploding in our faces in a way that has never happened. We are planning as a Department of Health to launch a cancer campaign reminiscent to the HIV AIDS campaign. You remember we launched the HIV counseling and testing campaign. We believe we need a similar campaign for cancer because for the first time in our lives we have got a pandemic of cancer in the country,” he said.

In South Africa cancer statistics are generally under reported, but it is believed there has been an increase of close to 10 % in the number of cancer cases between 2006 and 2015. The main risk factors include smoking, abuse of alcohol, poor diet and a lack of exercise.