in time to save your life
Rotary’s free cancer detection centre
a boon to patients
An average of 12,000 – 13,000 new cases
of cancer are diagnosed every year in Sri Lanka. The high mortality
of cancer in Sri Lanka is largely due to their late presentation
to the health authorities. According to studies, 30% – 40%
of cancer related deaths can be prevented with early detection by
screening as well as education. Thus, about 5,000 lives could be
saved every year, if awareness and the necessary facilities were
available. This underlines the vital importance of screening and
early detection in the diagnosis of cancer.
Campaigns to educate people about the benefits
of early screening have been carried out by the National Cancer
Control Programme and other organisations. However, the lack of
a screening and detection facility has been a great drawback. The
Maharagama Cancer Hospital is not conveniently located. It is also
overcrowded. Further the priority there is for treatment, rather
than screening. Thus there are long delays in carrying out screenings.
There is also reluctance on the part of the public
to be seen at the Maharagama hospital. A Cancer Screening Centre,
to provide free services in diagnosis, counselling and health education
has been identified as an urgent need.
It is with this in mind that the Rotary Club of
Colombo embarked on a community service project to set up a Cancer
Prevention and Early Detection Centre. “We wanted to do something
really worthwhile to mark 75 years of Rotary,” said Rotarian
Nirmali Samaratunga, Director, Community Service, adding that people
don’t appreciate the importance of screening and detection.
The objective of this project is to save lives by early detection
of cancer, by constructing the National Centre for Cancer Screening
The centre, which will be easily accessible to
the public would be constructed on land provided by the government.
Once built and equipped by the Rotary Club, it will be handed over
to the Cancer Control Programme (CCP) of the Cancer Institute, Maharagama.
A management committee would be formed with representatives of the
CCP and Rotary.
Having signed an MOU with the Ministry of Health,
the Rotary Club launched the project in 2003, under the leadership
of the late Nihal de Silva, who was then President of the club.
A small team of members met every Monday to discuss the project
and make presentations to potential donors. The initial problem
was locating a suitable land, Nirmali said. Finally in 2004, a land
belonging to the ministry was identified.
The building plans, which were drawn up by Migara
Alwis and Design Consortium free of charge, have been approved by
the Municipal Council. The estimated cost of the building is Rs.
30 million. The club has raised Rs. 11 million through fund raisers
and pledges, which is sufficient to start the construction. They
now need to raise the balance funds for the building.
|Dr. Thilini Indiketiya attending to a patient
Pix by Berty Mendis
Nirmali explained that Rotary has a scheme called
matching grants, by which they would be able to fund the necessary
equipment through Rotary Clubs abroad. The equipment is estimated
to cost Rs. 40 million. However, she said that this would not be
a problem once they were able to raise funds for the construction.
So the urgent need at present is to raise the balance funds needed
to complete the building.
When completed, the centre will provide all screening
and investigation facilities under one roof in an environment designed
to reduce the stress of the screening process. The facilities will
be made freely available especially to people in the low income
group. The centre will be equipped with three examination rooms
with facilities for risk assessment and clinical examinations, colonoscopy
facilities, a medical records and statistical unit, facilities for
pap smears and cyto-screening, laboratory investigation facilities
and a health education unit for enhancing public awareness and counselling.
“As securing the land was taking time, we
rented premises as a temporary arrangement, so that we could offer
screening facilities to the public without further delay,”
The temporary screening facility, which was opened
in April 2004, is the only such facility that serves the public
free of charge. Conveniently located at Elvitigala Mawatha, the
centre is compact, clean and well maintained. It is open daily for
half a day.
When the new centre is ready, however, they would
be able to recruit special staff and stay open the full day. Sister
Sriya Walisundera, from the Maharagama Cancer Control Programme
is in charge of the centre, assisted by another nurse from the hospital.
Sr. Walisundera has 27 years experience at the Cancer Hospital and
six years with the Cancer Control Programme.
She said about 10 – 15 patients come for
screening per day. “We speak to each patient for about half-an-hour
before the investigations, as it is a stressful process. Separate
forms are given for male and female patients. We do a general check-up
of blood pressure, blood sugar and so on, in addition to screening
for cancer. Samples are then sent to Maharagama for testing, but
when we have the new building, lab facilities will also be available.”
“The centre, though small, has been very
effective,” commented Nirmali. “The statistics justify
the need.” From May 2004 – March 2006, 1,358 female
and 290 male patients had registered for screening. Of these, 40%
females and 7% males had been diagnosed with cancer-related detections,
and referred for further investigations and treatment. About 80%
of the patients are from rural areas. Over 50% are female patients.
The highest incidence is breast cancer, followed by cervical cancer.
It has been found that early detection could result
in complete cure and enhanced quality of life. For example, pap
smears detect cancer 4 – 5 years before they become malignant.
A breast lump detected early could prevent a mastectomy. Large bowel
cancers, if detected early, would prevent the need for a colostomy.
All cases diagnosed early could be treated early, resulting in longer
Lalani, living in Maharagama, had heard about
this centre from a relative. She had come with her husband and adopted
son. She is 44 years old, 15 years married and has not had children.
“I felt my stomach was a little enlarged and some pain on
the left side, so I thought I should get checked,” she said.
I came here, because I heard it was good,” she said.
|Sister Sriya Walisundera
Another male patient was being examined by Dr.
Thilini Indiketiya, from the Maharagama Cancer Control Programme.
His father had died of leukemia and he also has a brother with a
lymphoma. However, he was found to be clear of any malignancies.
“Many patients, who have had incidence of cancer in the family,
get worried and come for screening,” Dr. Indiketiya said.
“About 60% of the cases are tobacco-related
and enhanced by alcohol,” said Dr. Yasantha Ariyaratne, Director,
National Cancer Control Programme and Cancer Hospital, Maharagama.
“So education and creating awareness are very important factors.
The project will be completed in three phases, since setting up
a screening clinic with all facilities at once would be very costly.
A clinic with basic facilities for screening will be set up, as
the first stage, with provision for expansion into additional units
for lab investigation, endoscopy unit and radiology unit and eventually
a molecular biology research and investigation laboratory.
“A project of this magnitude cannot be completed
without extensive support from the community,” said Nirmali.
“We need your help. Please join hands with Rotary and contribute
generously to this worthwhile, life-saving project.”