Caja promises faster diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer patients

As fighting lung cancer continues to be one of Costa Rica’s top medical priorities, the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social has announced the debut of a faster system to find and defeat the disease. The new network promises to take less than two months from time of detection until starting treatment.

The Caja’s new instructions for managing patients with lung cancer follows a series of guidelines set for the local clinics, the Equipos Básicos de Atención Integral en Salud. The Caja has set priorities on conducting more rapid and high-tech exams. Then each patient’s care will be carried out by a group of specialists to decide the best clinical approach in battling the cancer.

Wing Chan Cheng, clinical leader of the group that designed this faster route of discovery, commented on the potential impact of this reform. “This shortened response time can increase the opportunity to save a patient’s life,” he said in a release.

In Costa Rica, lung cancer is the third leading cause of death in men and the fifth for women.

“This work in lung cancer is part of a larger process that is marching towards and searching for the defining methods in prevention, early detection, and treatment opportunity for all the prioritized cancers,” said Marjorie Obando, physician and coordinator of the Coordinación Técnica del Cáncer at the Caja.

Another member of the Técnica del Cáncer, Estaban Cantillo, said that those patients suspected of having lung cancer can be assured they will be receiving the quickest treatment possible. When there are warning signs, the patient will be put on priority for further studies to determine the extent of the sickness and to begin treatment.

The new system is crucial for early detection because usually lung cancer patients are not diagnosed until the cancer has already reached an advanced stage. According to Chan, it will help doctors because lung cancer does not present visible symptoms in early stages. He added that the sick, principally smokers, don’t often relate symptoms like a persistent cough to the severity and level of the disease. The most common symptoms are constant coughing and chest pains. Other less common symptoms are coughing up phlegm and blood, accelerated weight loss, or loss of breath.

There are no recognizable symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer and early detection is usually accidental while checking for other health problems, the Caja said.

As always doctors urged all smokers to try to quit smoking. The Caja network’s guideline also makes an obligatory explanation to every smoker that comes to a local clinic to outline the dangers of smoking and the importance to drop the habit as soon as possible. These motivational sessions last three to five minutes and can be an aid in preventing tobacco addiction and further lung damage, the Caja said.

“In Costa Rica, of every 100 cases of cancer, 15 have some relation to smoking and, of every 100 deaths for cancer, 18 have relation to tobacco addiction,” said Alejandro Calderón, a physician for the Proyecto del Fortalecimiento de la Atención Integral del Cáncer. Lung cancer most commonly shows up for those between the ages of 50 and 75. It accounts for 3 percent of cancer-related deaths in the country.

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