Worries Over Increase In Cancer Cases

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Khaliru Alhassan, minister of health

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Nigerians joined other nations to celebrate World Cancer Day on Wednesday, February 4, but poor infrastructure and late detection are said to be the major causes of deaths in cancer-related cases in the country

By Anayo Ezugwu  | Feb. 16, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

IT WAS World Cancer day on Wednesday, February 4. But as Nigerians from all walks of life joined the rest of the world in marking the World Cancer Day, with the theme ‘Not Beyond Us,’ there was no cheering news to report. According the World Health Organisation, WHO, more 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer annually, and about 80,000 die, meaning that 240 Nigerians die daily or 10 Nigerians hourly. The Nigerian cancer death ratio of 4:5 is one of the worst globally. Cervical cancer which is 100 percent preventable kills a Nigerian woman every hour. Breast cancer kills 40 Nigerians daily (30 daily in 2008). Prostate cancer kills 26 Nigerian men daily (14 daily in 2008).

These three common cancers alone kill 90 Nigerians daily, due mainly to poor infrastructure. Nigeria has no Mobile Cancer Centres and no single Comprehensive Cancer Centre; most Nigerians have no access to optimal cancer treatment. A Comprehensive Cancer Centre costs about $63 million, while a Mobile Cancer Centre costs about $600,000. Nigerians spend $200 million annually on treatment abroad, enough to establish three Comprehensive Cancer Centres or to acquire 300 Mobile Cancer Centres. The outcome for Nigerians who seek treatment abroad is often poor because of late detection. Cervical cancer underscores the fact that cancer is preventable. Cervical screening is painless and takes only about five minutes.

Speaking at a workshop in Abuja to mark the world cancer day celebration, Jaf Momoh, chief medical director, National Hospital Abuja, said Nigerians should embrace early and regular cancer screening and testing to curb increasing cases of cancer related deaths. He said the fact that cancer was responsible for many deaths in the country, the disease was not a death sentence as early detection and treatment was a key to survival.

He advised men from the age of 40 and above, to screen for prostate cancer at least once or twice a year. “Cancer is not beyond us, cancer is within us if we screen early, and that is the message of this year’s celebration. Early screening is what will make the cancer to be within us, which means we can catch it early, deal with it and people can be cured. So, people do not necessarily have to die of cancer. Cancer has always been there, people are now doing more test to detect it. Secondly environmental issues have come to play, we are now eating what we didn’t used to eat and we are now exposed to so many chemicals that we were not used to. These are some of the things that are being speculated as being responsible for the increase incidence of cancer in Nigeria,” he said.

Cancer Rally in Abuja
Cancer Rally in Abuja

Ramatu Hassan, representative of the minister of Health, cautioned Nigerians against excessive cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption. “People should always go the hospital for medical check-up, awareness is necessary; you don’t have to go to the hospital because you are sick, early detection is key. The federal ministry of health has provided healthcare centres for the screening of cervical, breast and prostate cancer. The National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, has provided a screening process in a low rate to encourage people to go for cancer screening. There is hope for people that have cancer, they should also teach their relatives how to look after themselves,” she said.

Hassan expressed concern about all kinds of cancers, the focus on the common cancers which she listed as prostate, cervical and the breast was at increase in Nigeria. She said more than 60 percent of cancers affected mostly women which included breast and cervical cancer.

According the WHO, there are 14 million new cases of cancer and over eight million people die from cancer annually, with 60 percent of deaths in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. It said that more than 1.6 million or 20 percent of these were tobacco-related. The world body pointed out that cancer of lung could be fingered for 1.59 million deaths; liver cancer 745,000 deaths, stomach cancer 723,000 deaths; colorectal cancer 694 000 deaths; breast cancer 521,000 deaths and oesophageal cancer 400,000 deaths. It added that cancer mortality could be reduced if cases were detected and treated early.

It noted that pre-cancer changes were easy to treat by an outpatient procedure lasting 15 minutes. Although cervical cancer is reported to be disappearing in the West, but it remains the number one cancer killer of African women. The National Cervical Cancer Prevention Programme, a non-governmental initiative, pioneered community-based, mass cervical cancer screening campaign in Nigeria. With limited resources, more than 100,000 Nigerians were screened and treated and awareness created since 2007. Its effort significantly contributed to 15 percent reduction in cervical cancer deaths in Nigeria, from 26 women daily to 22 daily, between 2008 and 2012, the WHO said it was a significant improvement, given that the body had projected 25 percent increase in cervical cancer deaths in 10 years.

“In many countries, negative public perceptions and stigma associated with cancer stifle informed public discussion and perpetuate misconceptions about this disease. This obstructs efforts to raise awareness about cancer prevention, healthy behaviours and seeking early diagnosis for signs and symptoms. Individuals and communities need to be made aware that at least one third of the most common cancers can be prevented through reducing alcohol consumption, healthier diets and improved physical activity levels. If smoking is included the figure is about 50 percent. Empowering people to make healthy choices and reducing the social and environmental risk factors for cancer, are key to achieving the global goal of reducing premature deaths from non-communicable diseases, NCDs, by 25 percent by 2025 and reaching the targets of the World Cancer,” the WHO stated.

To Tezer Kutluk, president, Union for International Cancer Control, UICC, the World Cancer Day is the ideal opportunity to show how joining forces could have a global impact. “Cancer is not only a health issue but has wide-reaching social, economic and development implications as well. So it is a necessity that we, UICC, take a multi-sectorial approach, working together with governments, leaders, communities, key stakeholders, partners and individuals around the world to press for change to happen across the whole continuum of cancer care,” he said.

— Feb. 16, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT

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