Diagnosed with breast cancer last year, 52-year-old Irene is more fortunate than most as she is not beset by worries about the cost of her treatment.
“A husband of a friend who is also a victim of breast cancer said: ‘When we were young, we used our lives to earn money and now we are using our money to earn back our lives,’” she said, referring to the exorbitant cost of treatment.
While the rate of breast-cancer deaths has steadily decreased in the UK, the US and Australia since 2000, breast cancer remains Taiwan’s leading cause of cancer deaths in women, with almost 7,000 cases diagnosed each year.
Chang Tsai-wang (張財旺), a doctor at National Cheng-Kung University Hospital’s Department of Surgery, told a press conference in Taipei yesterday that breast-cancer deaths increased by between 30 percent and 40 percent from 1992 to 2003.
Many breast cancer victims are not trying newly developed medicines, such as Herceptin, as these are not covered by health insurance, said Chang King-jen (張金堅), chairman of the Foundation for Breast Cancer Prevention and Treatment.
Tseng Ling-ming (曾令民), from Taipei Veterans General Hospital’s Department of Surgery, said the government should allocate more funds on medical treatment, adding that President Ma Ying-Jeou (馬英九) and Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) had proposed raising health expenditure from 6.2 percent of GDP to 7.5 percent during their election campaign.
“Former US president Richard Nixon passed the National Cancer Act in the US in 1971. The US has increased its cancer survival rate from 50 percent to 63 percent,” Tseng said, emphasizing the need for the government to act on the issue.
“Breast cancer victims who are not financially well-off suffer from stress and other emotional issues, adversely affecting their appetite and their immune system. As a result, they are less able to fight the cancer,” Irene said. “Even the rich wonder how much cancer treatment will affect their financial well-being.”
“What price would you put on a life?” the foundation asked.
Without adequate insurance coverage or government support, many breast cancer victims are unable to receive new treatment that would decrease their risk of death, it said.