Cancer in My Community: Overcoming Inequities in Care in Argentina

January 3, 2023
Claudio Martin, MD

Cancer in My Community is a Cancer.Net Blog series that shows the global impact of cancer and how people work to care for those with cancer in their region. Claudio Martin, MD, received his medical degree with honors in 1991 at Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina. He completed his training in internal medicine and residency in oncology at the Instituto Alexander Fleming in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has been the head of thoracic oncology at the institution since 2004. He has also served as a staff oncologist at the Hospital de Rehabilitacion Respiratoria Maria Ferrer in Buenos Aires since 2004. Dr. Martin is a board member of the Argentina Association of Clinical Oncology (AAOC) and is the founder and director of the LATAM Consortium of Lung Cancer (CLICAP). View Dr. Martin’s disclosures.

Why I care for people with cancer

When I was a teenager, I lost a close family member to cancer. I now believe that this was when I decided, whether consciously or not, to dedicate my professional life to the prevention and treatment of cancer and helping people with cancer live longer and better.

My road to becoming an oncologist began during medical school at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. Following medical school, I did my residency in internal medicine, during which I served as the chief of residents. After my residency, I did a 3-year fellowship at the Instituto Alexander Fleming, where I also served as the chief of oncology residents. My journey down this road was arduous, but at the same time, it was fascinating. And it still hasn´t ended. My medical education is a work in progress that requires me to stay up to date on the latest advances and do my part in researching cancer and its treatments, particularly as they relate to the lives of people with cancer in Latin America.

While oncology is a demanding profession, I appreciate that it allows me to help my patients and their families during what is often a difficult and complex time in their lives. At the same time, it provides me with opportunities to do research that helps introduce new treatment advances in Latin America.

What cancer is like in Argentina

There is no single reality in health care for people with cancer in Argentina. There is a great deal of inequity that can frequently be seen in the form of lack of access to modern diagnostic methods, delayed diagnosis, and difficulty in obtaining the newest medications. It has been a major challenge meeting the needs of people with cancer and delivering the latest cancer treatments.

Although there is inequity in access to cancer care in Argentina, everyone here—even those who don´t have health insurance—has access to cancer treatment. However, having health insurance provides greater access to the most advanced treatments. The treatment centers with the latest technology in this country are located in the big cities, primarily in the city of Buenos Aires and the surrounding metropolitan area. In rural areas, it is more difficult to access cancer treatment. 

As with other countries in Latin America, people associate a cancer diagnosis with long, difficult, and painful treatment. Very frequently, people who have been diagnosed with this disease and their families do not want to know the patient’s prognosis. But we have been making progress.

Great advances have been made in changing people’s perceptions of clinical trials and encouraging them to participate in cancer research. But constant effort is needed to publicize the advances in cancer care that, in several cases, have turned cancer into a chronic disease. Unfortunately, many patients still choose traditional and alternative medicines, in the hopes of obtaining results that conventional cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, cannot offer or promise. However, most people with cancer in Argentina put their faith in conventional treatments.

Where patients can find local resources and support

Local information can be found at the Asociación Argentina de Oncología Clínica (AAOC) website and the Instituto Nacional del Cancer (INC) website.

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