El tratamiento del cáncer para el mundo en desarrollo

BOSTON – Hace más de cuatro decenios, el Presidente de los Estados Unidos Richard Nixon, inspirado por unos primeros resultados alentadores que mostraron que la quimioterapia podía curar enfermedades, como la leucemia linfoblástica aguda y el linfoma de Hodgkin, declaró la “guerra al cáncer”. Desde entonces, se han logrado avances constantes mediante la quimioterapia, la cirugía y la radiación para tratar y curar a un número cada vez mayor de pacientes de cáncer, pero el acceso a esos avances que salvan vidas sigue siendo esquivo para los países de renta media y baja, donde reside actualmente la mayoría de los pacientes de cáncer.

En los Estados Unidos, más del 80 por ciento de los pacientes con cáncer de mama son supervivientes de largo plazo y más del 80 por ciento de los niños afectados por el cáncer sobreviven. En mis cuarenta años de oncólogo en la Universidad de Harvard, he tratado a miles de pacientes que, de no haber sido por la quimioterapia, habrían tenido pocas posibilidades de supervivencia. Muchos de los pacientes que recibieron tratamiento en el decenio de 1970 están vivos y se encuentran bien actualmente; sus hijos son ahora adultos productivos.

Pero hasta que empecé a trabajar en Rwanda en 2011 no comprendí plenamente la capacidad de los instrumentos que tengo a mi disposición, al comprobar las consecuencias de no tenerlos. Entrar en el pabellón pediátrico del cáncer en el Hospital General Público de Kigali fue como retroceder en el tiempo. Los resultados entre los niños rwandeses con el tumor de Wilms, modalidad de cáncer de riñón que raras veces afecta a adultos, reflejaba lo que era uno del mismo estilo en los EE.UU. hace ochenta años, antes de que se dispusiera de medicamentos que actualmente permiten sobrevivir a más del 90 por ciento de los niños americanos diagnosticados.

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