• English
  • العربية
  • 中文
  • Français
  • Русский
  • Español

You are here

Strengthening Palliative Care for Cancer Patients in Asia and the Pacific


Cancer care specialists from nine countries in Asia and the Pacific joined experts in Vienna this month to develop ways to improve the quality of life for cancer patients through pain relief – or palliative care.

“Even in countries where resources are very limited, we can still try to minimize the pain and suffering felt by cancer patients,” said Nazmun Naher Shanta, radiation oncologist at Bangladesh’s National Institute of Cancer Research. “We realize the need for us as health specialists to work with policy makers and community leaders to implement quality services that help suffering patients.”

The need to expand quality palliative care services in Asia and the Pacific is enormous, Shanta said. According to the World Health Organization’s Global atlas of palliative care at the end of life, two of the nine countries represented at the workshop do not have related services in place, six provide only partial care and only one country has recently started integrating palliative care services in its national health system.

The workshop enabled participants to better understand the role of radiotherapy and other forms of treatment in palliative care and to develop short-term action plans to improve access to these services.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Asia has the world’s highest number of cancer patients. More than half of all cancer deaths worldwide occur in this region and almost 7 million new cases were diagnosed in 2012, the last year for which continent-wide data is available, and the rate is rising. Many of these patients will require palliative care at some point, but very few will actually receive it.

It is estimated that by the time it’s diagnosed, the majority of cancers in the developing world are incurable. Radiotherapy is one of the most effective ways of alleviating pain associated with cancer as it relieves symptoms caused by tumours like bone pain, bleeding and organ obstruction.

The action plans developed by the participants looked to strengthen advocacy efforts, build capacities and formulate ways to better plan and coordinate services. They also assessed how patients could receive improved access to quality radiotherapy treatment and essential medications for pain relief.

“Radiotherapy for palliation purposes is an integral part of a strong and effective national cancer control programme,” said Beatrix Lahoupe, from the IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT). “Pain relief through medicine and radiotherapy should go hand-in-hand.”

Health care specialists from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Vietnam attended the workshop in order to accelerate the implementation of recommendations specific to palliative care which arose from IAEA imPACT review missions.

Participants from several countries highlighted common challenges in providing palliative care, including a severe shortage of trained health workers, misconceptions about actual needs for palliative care services and the lack of integration of palliative care programmes into national cancer control plans and health systems.

During the workshop, participants and experts identified country-specific priorities and high-impact actions that could improve access to palliative care for cancer patients within a two-year timeframe. The proposed actions focused on: improving understanding of palliative care among domestic policy- and decision-makers, enhancing the training of health professionals in palliative care and integrating palliative care efforts into the activities of existing health systems.  

The event was organized by the IAEA in collaboration with the International Narcotics Control Board, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care, the World Health Organization, the Union for International Cancer Control and other international, regional and national organizations.

“Our region is not often on the radar of many world bodies when it comes to palliative care,” said Cynthia Goh, associate professor at the National Cancer Centre in Singapore and Chair of the Asia Pacific Hospice Palliative Care Network, “which is why workshops like these are essential.”

Stay in touch