CANCER will become an increasing burden for the Pacific, says Dr Hamish Ewing, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Melbourne.
Dr Ewing said cancer could be well treated in the Pacific, but only if people showed new or unusual lumps to their doctor when they first experience it, rather than delaying for months or years.
This was part of the Pacific Islands Surgeons Association (PISA) conference where surgeons from the region, including Fiji, spent a whole morning discussing the development of cancer services in the Pacific.
"There is very good scientific evidence from the World Health Organization that the number of cancers, especially the common ones like breast and cervix in women and lung, prostate and the intestines in men, is increasing and likely to become a much bigger burden for the Pacific nations to be caring for in the years ahead," said Dr Ewing.
"Reports from Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Samoa were presented. They all had the same message — 'our patients are coming for treatment too late'.
"The sadness is that there is now a skilled surgical service available in the Pacific nation's hospitals to care very well for these cancers if they could only be seen earlier.
"A good example of this is with breast cancer where 70 per cent of patients have large cancers that have already spread to other parts of the body at the time they first see their doctors. This makes treatment complicated, expensive and less effective. The majority of women seen knew about their breast lumps for months or years but delayed telling their doctors.
"When cancers are small, they can easily be treated and cured by the surgical services in the Pacific.
"When they are large and advanced, they have probably spread and cannot be cured anywhere in the world, even at great expense."
He said patients had to come sooner.