Gregorio Quintero

More Oncologists Needed to Keep Cancer in Check

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 09:23

Since 1960, cancer has quickly climbed the ranks to become one of the top three causes of death in the country. According to Gregorio Quintero, President of the Mexican Oncology Society (SMEO), more investment is needed to prevent this disease from taking more lives. “The country needs to allocate resources to cancer treatment. Resources for health services are not very high and there is no specific amount destined for cancer,” explains Quintero.
In Mexico, the Ministry of Finance allocates funds on a yearly basis to the health sector, dividing these into five subfunctions: community service provision, personal services provision, generation of health resources, health governance and social protection. But although most of the budget goes to IMSS and ISSSTE, it is nowhere near enough to cover cancer patients. “This is especially true with innovative treatments that can be more expensive,” Quintero says.  
Another red flag SMEO has identified is the lack of oncologists and the fact they are mostly concentrated in Mexico’s largest cities, leaving many without access to treatment. “The country has a lack of oncologists per inhabitants and most are centralized in Mexico City and other large cities. For this to change, we require more hospital infrastructure,” says Quintero. Increasing the number of oncologists requires more medical schools and hospitals to be established across the country. SMEO has also created international alliances with North American and European organizations. The society has mutual collaboration agreements that allow the exchange of members, as well as agreements with pharmaceutical companies to provide training for residents and oncologists.
A lack of jobs in nonmetropolitan areas is another reason behind the lack of oncologists per inhabitants in the country. “The problem is that by centralizing this specialty, we are reaching a saturation point that forces oncologists to work as general surgeons rather than as oncologists.”
SMEO plays a vital role in not only generating information about cancer in Mexico, but also disseminating that information among patients, doctors and government entities. The society works closely with government officials to generate public policy based on available scientific and medical research.
SMEO has also identified a need for prevention and early detection in Mexico to lower the number of deaths by cancer. “Prevention and early detection are crucial in training programs for residents and oncologists. There are certain cancers that can be prevented in one way or another or that can be detected early, improving the chances of recovery,” explains Quintero. “SMEO participates in several academic events where we always cover topics focused on early detection.” This issue needs to be part of the national public policy and SMEO is working with other associations, the Senate and other entities to convince the government to allocate resources for early detection of different types of cancers like breast or prostate.  
Although there are many areas of opportunity to provide the attention that cancer patients need, Quintero says technology can help bridge the information gap. “In terms of information access and availability, having Big Data and information available for everyone to access is important.” Yet, for this to work, Quintero says the entire country needs to be connected and have access to information. In Mexico, telemedicine works for general consultations or to get the opinion from an oncologist at a clinic where there is no oncologist available. But for the actual treatment of cancer patients, there needs to be an oncologist in residence, especially since medications and treatments evolve at a very fast rate. “Accessibility is necessary in all regions across the country,” he says.  
SMEO has worked directly with many researchers and oncologists in Mexico who participate in research activities. However, there is no consolidated research system. The society has also made efforts to form cooperation groups so research can be done among different hospitals. “Our magazine also plays an important role in promoting research efforts and the results of cooperating groups,” he says. “We are in the process of indexing the magazine into MEDLINE. If we succeed, we would be the first Mexican oncology magazine indexed and one of the few Latin American magazines on the platform.”