Updated 14 March 2017

Patient advocacy explained

Advocacy is the process of trying to change policies to reflect the needs of individuals and communities.


Advocacy is the process of trying to change policies to reflect the needs of individuals and communities. Patient advocacy provides opportunities for NGOs, cancer patients, their families and supporters to become involved in the decision-making processes that affect their lives as well as become empowered to speak up about their needs and take an active role in ensuring that they receive appropriate cancer treatment and care.

In general, advocacy is defined as the active support of an idea or cause.  It means that people raise their voices to push for or argue for something that is important to them.

Advocacy work includes many different activities such as lobbying, mobilisation, education, research, prayer and networking. It can be undertaken alone, with a group of people or as part of a network. It can be spontaneous or carefully planned a one-off intervention or an on-going process. We can undertake advocacy through speaking out against injustice, defending the cause of the poor, holding those in power to account, and empowering people to speak out for themselves.

Anyone can undertake advocacy work – it does not need to be left to professionals or experts. It means doing something even if it is as simple as talking to your neighbour about the issue that is important to you

To learn more about what Campaigning for Cancer is actively advocating for and lend your voice to the fight against cancer go to

The types of advocacy

Advocacy is about working on individual cases, such as one patient getting access to a treatment they may have been denied, and about campaigning on issues, such as ensuring that there is an up to date cancer registry that can tell us the types of cancers that are common in South Africa or who they are affecting.

Self-advocacy begins with individual patients speaking up to ensure their own quality of care. Family and friends can also become advocates to help individual patients secure services. The role of the cancer NGO is to provide the education and information regarding these rights, process and tools on how to speak up.

Systems-level change advocacy is working towards making changes in service systems, use of funds, public policies, laws, regulations to impact many people. The role of the cancer NGO is to lobby, at relevant levels, with stakeholders and decision makes to drive this process.

The benefits of advocacy

Advocacy leads to change.  If no one raises their voice about an issue that is not receiving the attention it deserves, then nothing changes.  Advocacy is important because it brings something that may seem unimportant to the attention of those who have the power to carry out change.  

  • Advocacy makes people aware of their own power.
  • Advocacy can tackle root causes of injustice and brings long-term change.
  • Advocacy uses people as agents of change in their own communities so the change happens from the ground up.
  • Advocacy can help to generate more resources for cancer patients.

Ultimately, advocacy seeks to improve the lives of cancer patients and those affected by the disease.

To learn more about the changes that need to happen go to

Why is cancer advocacy important to South Africans?

Cancer in South Africa does not get the attention it needs, both from the everyday man and from our government.  Dr Barry Kistnasamy from the National Cancer Registry was recently quoted for stating that cancer is the fourth biggest killer of South Africans, in spite of the fact that the most common cancers (in South Africa) are treatable if detected early enough.  This means that we as South Africans are not educated about these treatable cancers – because if we knew, surely we would be doing something to make sure that we do not die from an illness we can do something about.  It also means that our government may not be providing the services that we need to treat these treatable cancers.  Advocacy ensures that the public is educated and aware and it means ensuring that services such as treatment are available and accessible. 

To learn more about the changes that need to happen go to


 (Health24, December 2011)


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CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst. For more information, visit

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