World Cancer Day 4 February – Palliative Care for Cancer is not just for the Terminal

World Cancer Day 4 February – Palliative Care for Cancer is not just for the Terminal
Emmanuel Luyirika Executive Director of the African Palliative Care Association


This 4th February is World Cancer Day. According to data collated from members of the Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA) at the end of 2021; no fewer than 5,120 people were assisted post-cancer diagnoses, with 4,293 receiving care across 52 hospices.

Says Ewa Skowronska, CEO of the HPCA: “Despite the importance of palliative care being available to any individual diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, we find that this care is often misunderstood and considered to be ‘end-of-life’ care. It is, in fact, the holistic care provided to anyone with a life-threatening illness, and it starts with diagnosis. In 2021, 53 different types of cancers were tracked in addition to those diagnosed with either TB or HIV – all of whom are receiving care.”

The last update to the South African National Cancer Registry was in 2019. At that time, the total number of cancer cases reported across the population was 85,373 – an increase of 3,728 from the previous registry update in 2017[1].

Ewa Skowronska, CEO of the HPCA
Ewa Skowronska, CEO of the HPCA

“If we are to take those outdated figures and compare them to the number of individuals cared for in hospices in 2021, it is quite evident that there are a lot of people falling through the cracks in terms of palliative care,” says Skowronska.

Leigh Meinert, Advocacy Manager of the HPCA says: “Palliative care is offered to both the diagnosed individual as well as their family and loved ones. Hospices are often understood to be a building where terminally ill patients are cared for. However they are, in fact, organisations that provide at-home or in-patient care (according to the hospice) to anyone affected by a life-threatening diagnosis. Hospice is a philosophy, not a building.”

According to Zodwa Sithole, Head of Advocacy at CANSA, cancer patients should be referred for palliative care from diagnosis. “Palliative care provides holistic care to the patients e.g. physical, spiritual and psychosocial. Unfortunately, these referrals are not taking place due to a misconception of palliative care and the lack of palliative care training amongst health care professionals.”

“The message needs to reach both the general public and the medical and healthcare sectors that quality palliative care is critical for the wellbeing of a cancer patient and their loved ones,” concludes Skowronska. “It is also critical in terms of providing the best possible medical care. Each hospice has a multidisciplinary health care team that includes a medical doctor, professional nurse, social worker and home-based carers. This team works with the patient’s own specialist or oncologist to ensure a good quality of life for patients who have been diagnosed with life-limiting illnesses as well as to prevent and relieve unnecessary suffering.”

For more information on palliative care, or to refer to a hospice, visit: For information on courses run by the HPCA, visit:


About World Cancer Day

World Cancer Day takes place every year on 4th February and is the uniting global initiative under which the world comes together to raise the profile of cancer in a positive and inspiring way. Spearheaded by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the day aims to save millions of preventable deaths each year by raising awareness and improving education about the disease while calling for action from governments and individuals across the world.

World Cancer Day 2022 is led by the theme “Close the care gap”, recognising the power of knowledge and challenging assumptions. This first year of a new three-year campaign on equity, raises awareness about lack of equity in cancer care and barriers that exist for many people in accessing services and receiving the care they need.


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[1] National Cancer Registry stats provided by CANSA