Top S.A swimmer Chad Le Clos leads conversation on rising cost trends in cancer


There has been a significant increase in the incidence of cancer, as well as a surge in the cost of treating the illness; this is according to data from insurer Discovery Health.

The insurer which serves over five million people in South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, China, Singapore and Australia said that its data from medical schemes administered by Discovery Health showed a significant increase in the number of people diagnosed with cancer.

“In Discovery, we see a growing incidence of cancer, we have seen a 36 per cent rise in the proportion of members experiencing cancer during the year, just in the last five years and this is obviously of great concern,” said Dr Jonathan Broomberg, CEO of Discovery Health.


Discovery Patients

Broomberg highlighted the issue at a screening of Olympic Gold-medallist swimmer Chad Le Clos’s documentary titled Unbelievable: The Chad le Clos Story, which follows the swimmer’s journey, his rivalry with champion Michael Phelps and the battle his family is currently facing as his parents both face cancer (his mother for the second time).

“We understand that Chad and his family are confronting these huge challenges with both his parents confronting cancer right now,” he said.

In the past four years, Discovery Health Medical Scheme saw an 83 per cent increase in the cost of treatment, and spent a total of 13.9 billion on cancer care.

Discovery Costs

He adds: “We are seeing that the cost of cancer is definitely increasing, certain components are going down and others are going up significantly.”

The doctor told CNBC Africa that the main reason for the high cost is due to very expensive but very effective new technologies that enter the market, as they often cost multiples of the previous technology he said.

Bert Le Clos, Chad’s father who grew in popularity after his “incredible” outburst when his son won gold in 2012 is opting for more natural methods of therapy, something that is said to have major benefits but recommended with other forms of treatment.

“Our [Discovery] view is that the best treatments for any condition, cancer or otherwise, are treatments for which there is proper evidence – we are always focused on paying for treatments where there is very strong evidence,” said Broomberg.

“In certain conditions there is evidence that certain vitamins and other treatments assist with treatment – they are never sufficient on their own as far as I understand.”

He sees cancer treatment on a “rapidly evolving path” because just a few years ago, all types of cancer were typically treated with the same treatment.

“We are moving to a situation where cancer treatment is becoming much more personalised, there are new diagnostic tests, genetic sequencing and new treatments that can target particular cancers in particular people – the benefit of that is that treatments are likely to become more effective and also very importantly, side effects are much reduced.”

“A healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to prevent cancer occurring and also early screenings, our Vitality programme encourages members to screen frequently for breast cancer, for colon cancer and for various other cancers you can catch at an early stage and therefore cure before they cause real trouble.”

 Discovery Future

“I think we can look forward to an era in which cancer is a much more manageable condition, much less of a killer, more of a chronic disease and where the side effects are easier for patients to tolerate.”

The documentary, which aired over the weekend, makes you route for the Durban-born athlete to overcome the stress that is waning on his family and once again claim the gold from Michael Phelps.

“I think it’s an amazing documentary, I think it tells a very heart-warming story, I think it’s a very authentic story of very real people, living in the world coming from South Africa, putting South Africa on the world stage – we could not be happier,” said Dr Broomberg. 

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