Cancer Ravages Nigerians

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The National Cancer Prevention Programme says 80,000 Nigerians die of cancer annually

| By Anayo Ezugwu | Jan 23, 2017 @ 01:00 GMT |

ON February 4, Nigeria joined the rest of the world to celebrate World Cancer Day. That is the universally designated day to promote ways to ease the global burden of cancer and to explore how everyone can collectively or individually do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer.

The World Cancer Day for the three years 2016-2018 took place under the tagline “We can. I can.” This is important, given the fact that cancer is a global epidemic that is not only huge but is set to rise.

Currently, one out of every three persons will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and it is projected that by 2030, one in every two persons will be diagnosed of the disease in their lifetime. More than 14 million people develop cancer every year, and this figure is projected to rise to over 21 million by 2030.

According to the National Cancer Prevention Programme, NCPP, over 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer annually, and about 80,000 die from the disease; this comes to 240 Nigerians every day or 10 Nigerians every hour dying from cancer. The Nigerian cancer death ratio of four in five is one of the worst in the whole world.

The good news is that many cancers can be prevented by avoiding exposure to common risk factors, such as tobacco smoke, excessive alcohol intake, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, unhealthy diet, infectious diseases like Hepatitis B & C as well as human papillomavirus among others. In addition, a significant proportion of cancers can be cured, especially if they are detected early.

To combat the cancer menace in the country, the NCPP, a nongovernmental initiative of mass medical mission, is currently scaling up its impact by establishing a structured and organised, mobile system of preventive cancer care and health promotion, through the use of Mobile Cancer Centres, MCC.

Abia Nzelu, executive secretary, Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, CECP, told Realnews that the MCC will not only tackle the common cancers but will also target several common diseases that are risk factors for cancer, including diabetes, renal disease, obesity, malaria, schistosomiasis, helicobacter pylori, Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, human papillomavirus and hypertension. Cancer and these 10 related diseases kill more people in Nigeria than all other causes of death combined.

According to her, the pilot phase of the campaign will commence in the second half of this year in four of the old regions of Nigeria, namely: East (Port Harcourt), Mid-West (Asaba), North (Abuja) and West (Lagos). “The first set of Mobile Cancer Centres for this phase has been ordered from the United States of America and is being expected whilst the base centres from which the MCCs will operate has been established.

“When the pilot phase commences, each of the states would be divided into smaller units such that every community in the state would be reached by the Mobile Cancer Centre at least once a year. The schedule for the community outreach would be communicated to the general public in due course. This significant and monumental achievement in the Big War against Cancer in Nigeria was made possible due to the united and concerted actions of public-spirited Nigerians,” she said.

“As we mark World Cancer Day 2017, these philanthropists are shining examples of the fact that ‘We can; I can’ make a difference to the big war against cancer, if we join hands together. The short-term goal of the big war is to acquire and deploy 37 Mobile Cancer Centres, one for each state and FCT Abuja, whilst the long-term goal is to establish one Comprehensive Cancer Centre in each of Nigeria’s geopolitical zones,” she said.

Supporting the cause for cancer prevention, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former minister of finance, in an article published in Realnews said that the limited access to screening and treatment of cancer across Africa means that a growing number of people are dying young from largely preventable and treatable diseases. She said because of this Africa is now in serious danger of sleepwalking into a cancer crisis.

“This is particularly the case with women and cervical cancer, which in many countries is the most common cancer affecting women. Currently 266,000 women die horrible deaths of this disease every year – one every two minutes – of which 87 percent are in low- and middle-income countries, with the eight highest rates of incidence all in Africa.

“In Nigeria alone, more than 14,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year, more than 8,000 of whom die. And yet, tragically most of these deaths could be prevented thanks to the existence of an affordable and effective vaccine. Human papillomavirus, HPV, vaccines targets the virus that is responsible for 70 to 90 percent of cervical cancers, depending on the vaccine. It is safe and one of the most effective and high-impact vaccines that exist, preventing 1,500 deaths for every 100,000 girls vaccinated. So then why aren’t African girls getting it?” she asked.

Also, the World Health Organisation, WHO, latest data shows that worldwide, cancer is now responsible for almost one in six deaths globally. Each year 8.8 million people die from cancer. Sadly, about two-thirds of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries like Nigeria.

WHO predicted that the world may record more than 17 million cancer-related deaths in the next 20 to 30 years if unhealthy lifestyle choices should continue.

Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for Africa, WHO, said in a statement that African countries would be the most affected by the disease.

“Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, with approximately 8.8 million cancer-related deaths in 2015. Within the next 20-30 years, the global death rate due to cancer is expected to double, and African countries are likely to be the most affected,’’ Moeti said.

The director said the prediction on the rise of cancer cases, especially in Africa, was based on the continent’s ageing population, persistence of chronic infections, unhealthy lifestyle choices and risk factors such as overweight. She also listed low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco and alcohol consumption, as other unhealthy lifestyle choices, which can increase the risk of developing the disease.

“Such choices are greatly influenced by forces outside of people’s control, from unhealthy, cheap food choices at shops and schools to poor urban planning and marketing of tobacco and alcohol.”

In the African region, the most common cancers are cervical, breast, liver and prostate as well as Kaposi’s sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Cancer-causing viral infections such as human papilloma virus, HPV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C (HBV/HCV) significantly contribute to the burden of cervical and liver cancer. The WHO Regional Office for Africa recently released a report, which alarmingly found that one-quarter of adults in half of the African countries surveyed had at least three of these risk factors.

Tobacco is the most important risk factor for cancer, causing about 70 percent of lung cancer deaths and 20 percent of other global cancer deaths. In the African region, daily tobacco use among adults ranges from five percent to 26 percent that is 12 percent across the region.

Moeti said that individuals and governments should take drastic action to reverse the trend, which had continued to threaten the strides made in other areas. She further urged governments and other stakeholders to take action through the creation of healthy schools, workplaces, and cities, as well as promote policy change and improve access to people-centred cancer care.

She added that welfare programmes for patients and families, psycho-social and rehabilitation services, as well as surveillance and cancer control efforts could be embarked upon. Moeti also called on government to support people undergoing treatment to encourage early cancer detection.

“As individuals, we can make healthy lifestyle choices and understand that screening and early diagnosis saves lives, take control of the cancer journey and reach out for support and use our voices to promote cancer awareness and control. We can protect ourselves and our loved ones against liver cancer and cervical cancer by being vaccinated against HBV and HPV, respectively.

As cancer continues to take millions of lives prematurely, governments need to take urgent action to meet the targets to reduce the burden of cancer and other non-communicable diseases. Lifestyle changes although not easy, will help to reduce the chances of developing cancer and an often slow and painful death. Together we can beat cancer.

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