VERA FILES FACT SHEET: No such thing as ‘cancer-free,’ oncologist says

Read this fact check in Filipino

On June 8, several netizens, including Pinoy Ako Blog author Jover Laurio, pointed out seemingly contradicting statements from San Juan City Mayor Francisco Zamora, who recently referred to his wife as a “stage 3 breast cancer patient” after claiming seven months ago that she was already “cancer free.”

There is no such thing as “cancer free,” according to an oncologist.

Around 8 p.m. on June 7, Zamora issued a statement on social media apologizing to Baguio City residents for breaking quarantine protocols and getting past a police checkpoint two days prior. He then went on to explain:

“My wife is a stage 3 breast cancer patient and is still undergoing treatment. Her doctor advised her to take a very needed rest[,] which[,] combined with her medical treatment protocols[,] would help her achieve full recovery.”

Source: Francisco Zamora official Twitter account, Statement of San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora in response to the statement of Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, June 7, 2020

Hours later, Laurio, among other netizens, tweeted a copy of the statement, and a screenshot of a November 2019 post of Zamora on Facebook, where he announced that his wife’s PET CT scan results showed she was already “cancer free” after “undergoing nine months of treatment.”

Laurio, who has at least 48,200 followers on Twitter, said in her caption: “Dear Mayor Zamora, I pray for your wife’s illness. Sana maging cancer free na siya (I hope she becomes cancer free) soon.”

While a few netizens, including Laurio, noted in the reply section that cancer, as a disease, may recur, others accused Zamora of lying and that he was simply using his wife’s condition to “gain sympathy.”

Oncologist Necy Juat, a member of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, told VERA Files in an online interview that there is “no such thing as ‘cancer-free’.”

A patient is labelled “in remission” when all laboratory and diagnostic tests show the person is “clear of any sign of cancer,” Juat said.

There are two types of remission: partial, when the signs and symptoms of the cancer is reduced; and complete, when all signs of cancer have disappeared, according to the United States National Cancer Institute (NCI) .

When a patient remains in complete remission for at least five years, some doctors may say she is already “cured,” said the U.S. NCI. But even then, some cancers can “remain in the body for many years after treatment [and] there is a chance that cancer will come back later.”

Juat said a patient who has been deemed “cancer-free” -- in such case, she may be called a “cancer survivor” -- may still be diagnosed with, or develop stage 3 cancer “even after a few years [since] the last treatment.”

“You have to remember that the cancer cells are only controlled but not totally eradicated. Sometimes early-stage cancer can progress to terminal stage,” she added.

Breach in Baguio City’s protocols

Zamora arrived at the Kennon Road quarantine checkpoint on the afternoon of June 5 “on board a convoy of [six] vehicles, with uniformed personnel inside,” according to a statement of Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong.

When the entourage was stopped for inspection, the driver of the lead vehicle -- a police car -- “just slowed down a bit” and informed the checkpoint officer that he was part of a convoy, “then forthwith sped off with the mayor’s (Zamora) entourage in tow,” the statement read.

Checkpoint personnel reported the incident to Baguio police officers, who then followed Zamora’s convoy to the Baguio Country Club and “politely told [Zamora and company] to undergo triage examination,” the statement said.

Magalong said Zamora “profusely expressed deep regrets,” noting that the latter claimed he was “asleep in his car” when his police escort “mindlessly took it on his own to ignore what has long been a standard border protection measure.”

The incident raked in criticisms from Baguio residents and even sparked an online petition calling on the Baguio city council to declare Zamora persona non grata. Over 15,700 people have signed the petition as of June 12.

The five police officers who escorted Zamora have since been relieved from their posts and are awaiting investigation. National Capital Region police director Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, who himself is also facing charges for alleged breach in quarantine protocols, said he “will not condone any wrongdoing of our police officers in the implementation of the community quarantine protocols.”

Baguio City has been hailed as a model for local government units in its efforts to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Philippines has recorded 24,175 confirmed cases for COVID-19 with 1,036 deaths and 5,165 recoveries as of June 11, 2020.


Sources

Francisco Zamora official Facebook account, Statement of San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora in response to the statement of Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, June 7, 2020

Pinoy Ako Blog official Twitter account, “Dear Mayor Zamora…,” June 8, 2020

Francisco Zamora official Facebook account, “After 9 months of undergoing treatment and medical procedures…,” Nov. 6, 2019

Online interview, Necy Juat, June 8, 2020

United States National Cancer Institute, Understanding Cancer Prognosis, Last reviewed: June 17, 2019

Benjamin Magalong official Facebook page, Public statement, June 7, 2020

Change.org, Declare Mayor Francis Zamora Persona Non Grata

Inquirer.net, Police officers in Zamora’s convoy to Baguio City relieved from posts — Sinas, June 8, 2020

GMA News Online, 5 San Juan cops relieved from posts for 'disregarding' Baguio health protocols, June 8, 2020

Rappler, NCRPO sacks San Juan cops who escorted Mayor Zamora to Baguio, June 8, 2020

CNN Philippines, Criminal charges to be filed vs. NCRPO chief Sinas, other police officials over birthday feast – Palace, May 14, 2020

Inquirer.net, BREAKING: Sinas, other police officials in mañanita to face criminal case – Palace, May 14, 2020

Rappler, PNP files criminal, admin raps vs Sinas, 18 cops over birthday party, May 15, 2020

Department of Interior and Local Government, Baguio shares COVID-19 best practice on contact tracing to other LGUs, May 6, 2020

Baguio City PIO official Facebook page, CAR, Baguio City praised for COVID-19 actions, Feb. 23, 2020

Department of Health, COVID-19 BULLETIN #89, June 11, 2020


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

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