JIS News

Story Highlights

  • The recent subsidy of almost $5,000 provided by the Government for an important test for breast cancer patients, has received the endorsement of the medical community, as well as the Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS).
  • Under the initiative, the NHF has extended its individual benefits portfolio to include support of $4,800 for the Breast Cancer Receptor Studies test carried out by the UHWI Pathology Laboratory.
  • For his part, President of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), Dr. Shane Alexis, says the support marks a “great day” for breast cancer patients.

The recent subsidy of almost $5,000 provided by the Government for an important test for breast cancer patients, has received the endorsement of the medical community, as well as the Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS).

Under the initiative, the National Health Fund (NHF) has extended its individual benefits portfolio to include support of $4,800 for the Breast Cancer Receptor Studies test carried out by the University Hospital of the West Indies’ (UHWI) Pathology Laboratory.

“We are applauding the efforts of the NHF in providing this financial benefit to our many breast cancer patients. We are truly grateful for this subsidy, which covers this mandatory screening,” says Executive Director of the JCS, Yulit Gordon.

For his part, President of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), Dr. Shane Alexis, says the support marks a “great day” for breast cancer patients.

He also hails the NHF for the initiative, and the support it provides for other illnesses.

Dr. Alexis is urging doctors to encourage patients to register with the NHF so that they can benefit from the agency’s medication subsidies. “I would encourage all doctors to order the NHF forms, and try to find as many people to sign up, because it is a very good programme,” he says.

Head of the UHWI Pathology Department, Dr. Gillian Wharfe, says the support is a “significant burden lifted off the patients, who are already burdened by the (cancer) diagnosis.”  She says if the tests were to be sent overseas, the cost would be US$100 each.

The UHWI lab is the only local facility offering the Breast Cancer Receptor Studies test.

Breast cancer cells are tested to determine receptor status, that is, whether they are hormone receptors or biological receptors, the result of which is important in making treatment decisions.

Outlining the importance of the test, Dr. Wharfe says it will better enable doctors to design treatment for particular patients.

“We want to be able to treat patients so that in the early stage of the disease, we can effect a cure. We want to expose them to treatments that are absolutely necessary so that we reduce the toxicities, and we are personalizing treatment based on the patient and the cancer,” she points out.

Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, says the provision of the benefit by the NHF is in keeping with the agency’s mandate to provide greater access to medical treatment for specified diseases, one of which is breast cancer.

“The NHF has been a saving grace for many Jamaicans with certain non-communicable diseases (NCD), and we hope to continue to provide increased and improved services where we detect gaps,” he states.

Head of the agency, Everton Anderson, informs that since its formation in 2003, the NHF has been providing support for thousands of Jamaicans with breast cancer. “A total of 5,442 persons are enrolled for breast cancer, of which six per cent are men, or 307, who receive subsidy to purchase their medication. We have paid 49,275 claims, totaling over $322 million in subsidy for breast cancer medication,” Mr. Anderson reports.

The NHF provides subsidy for medications for the treatment of breast and prostate cancers. There are nearly 80 pharmaceutical items on the NHF drug list for treating these two conditions.

Among the beneficiaries is educator, Jennifer Fearon Rodney, who is a breast cancer survivor.

It was after entering a weight loss competition, organised by the NHF that Mrs. Fearon Rodney found out she had cancer. She won the top individual prize and she says that losing the weight helped during the treatment and recovery processes.

Mrs. Fearon Rodney is now encouraging women to join the NHF benefits programme.

“I would encourage (persons) to become a part of the programme. It has opened my eyes, and I am sorry I did not know about this programme before,” she tells JIS News.

Mrs. Fearon Rodney is also encouraging women not to fear the breast cancer test, noting that, had she been doing regular screenings, her cancer might have been detected earlier.

“I am advising women, do your screening, because if I had done mine, I know I wouldn’t have lost this breast. I was afraid of doing the mammogram.

“It is a simple test. Just make up your mind, go through and do it. I stepped out in faith, and I did what I have to do. I completed my treatment the last week in July, and I am back at work, and I function normally,” she notes.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Jamaican women, and early detection is important in effectively treating the disease.

Risk factors associated with breast cancer are: family history; obesity; beginning menstruation before age 12; starting menopause after age 55; and women, who have their first child at an older age, such as 35 and over.