New Data Shows We’re Winning The Fight Against Breast Cancer

Although progress is gradually being made in the fight against cancer, there is need for more awareness on its preventive measures, adherence to healthy lifestyles and investment in cancer treatment facilities, reports VINCENT IKUOMOLA

Aremu Segun Kuti, who lost his wife to cancer two years ago,believes the National Hospital in Abuja is overwhelmed. His wife, Taiwo Olufunke Aremu, suffered and died of cancer in the hospital after waiting for 11 years to have a baby. Sadly, she was mowed down by cancer during pregnancy,unable to survive the disease after much efforts and safe child delivery. To keep her memory alive, Tai Aremu Cancer Awareness Campaign Organisation(TACACO) was set up for sensitising the populace about the need for routine medical tests as early detection of cancer makes for easier treatment that can save lives.

According to Mr. Kuti, the National Hospital where his wife died two years ago deserves commendation for how it is handling the influx of cancer patients from all parts of the country. Having been equipped with modern facilities for diagnosing and treatment of cancer, the National Hospital has continued to experience huge human traffic, as cancer patients throng the facility in search of succour.

Speaking with The Nation during activities organised by TACACO to mark the World Cancer Day at the National Hospital in Abuja, many patients and their relations emphasised the need for government to do everything possible to ensure easy access to treatment. With over 8.8 million cancer deaths recorded yearly, cancer is indeed a global scourge. It is responsible for one in six deaths globally. Latest figures show that 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 World Health Organisation (WHO), there were 18.1million new cases of cancer in 2018. This was a significant increase of about 4million cases compared to last estimate of 14.1million new cases in 2012. It is estimated that one  in every five men and one  in every six women develop cancer globally.

Africa is estimated to have about 5.8 per cent of the new cases, but also a disproportionately higher 7.3 per cent of cancer prevention, poor attitude for cancer screening and early detection, inadequate treatment facilities and higher incidence of cancer types with poor outcomes. Thus, cancer is now the second leading cause of deaths in the world, accounting for 8.8 million deaths in 2018. Of this figure, Nigeria is said to account for 80,000 deaths. According to the WHO statistics, over 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer annually, and about 80,000 die from the disease, averaging 240 Nigerians every day or 10 Nigerians every hour, dying from cancer.

Nigeria’s cancer death ratio of four in five is said to be one of the worst in the whole world.Data also shows that cervical cancer, which is virtually 100 percent preventable, kills one Nigerian woman every hour. It is the same sad story for breast cancer, which kills 40 Nigerians daily; while prostate cancer kills 26 Nigerian men daily. These three common cancers alone kill 90 Nigerians daily.

Last year, Nigeria recorded an estimated 115,950 new cases of cancer with an estimated 80, 327 cancer deaths. A recent research has also shown that more Nigerians are likely to die of cancer in the next seven years. According to the report by a group conducting research on prevention policies for the diseases in the country, cancer will kill more than malaria and HIV.But cancer is regarded as curable if the patient lives for more than five years after the disease has been identified, says WHO. High mortality rates are usually observed among third and fourth-degree cancer patients.

According to new guides to cancer early diagnosis released by WHO, three steps to early diagnosis are necessary. First, there has to be an improvement in public awareness of different cancer symptoms and encourage people to seek care when these arise. Countries are also expected to invest in strengthening and equipping health services and training health workers so they can conduct accurate and timely diagnostics and ensure people living with cancer can access safe and effective treatment, including pain relief, without incurring prohibitive personal or financial hardships.”Diagnosing cancer in late stages, and the inability to provide treatment, condemns many people to unnecessary suffering and early death. By taking the steps to implement WHO’s new guidance, healthcare planners can improve early diagnosis of cancer and ensure prompt treatment, especially for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers. This will result in more people surviving cancer. It will also be less expensive to treat and cure cancer patients,” said Dr. Etienne Krug, director of WHO’s Department for the Management of Non-communicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention.

The world health body has therefore called on specialists to pay special attention to early diagnosis of cancer, because most oncological diseases are curable, if discovered early.In Nigeria, it is observed that many cancer cases are diagnosed too late. This may not be the fault of the patients who in most cases are being attended to by general doctors, and not specialists. Thus, by the time the specialists would have come to the picture, it is usually said to be late, which may not the entire fault of the patients.

Added to this is the fact that Nigerians have poor attitude towards preventive healthcare. Many don’t make it a point of duty to know their health status; while self-medication is usually practised when they fall ill. Going for medical check-up is definitely not in the habit of many people. Lack of money is the main excuse people give; so they would rather spend money on curative medicine than preventive.However, WHO has encouraged Nigeria and other countries to prioritise basic, high-impact and low-cost cancer diagnosis and treatment service. It also recommends reducing the need for people to pay for care out of their own pockets, which prevents many from seeking help in the first place.

Comprehensive cancer control consists of prevention, early diagnosis and screening, treatment, palliative care, and survivorship care, which should all be part of comprehensive national cancer control plans. WHO has produced comprehensive cancer control guidance to help governments develop and implement such plans to protect people from the onset of cancer and to treat those needing care.

The Minister of Health,Prof Isaac Adewole,said Nigeria is working towards revitalising all its cancer treatment centres to address the menace. He recently disclosed that out of the 200 treatment machines which Nigeria requires, only seven were available, with none working at some points. Prof Adewole however assured that the government will upgrade treatment centres in Maiduguri, Zaria, Ilorin, Ibadan, Benin,Enugu, Sokoto, Gombe and Jos. He further explained that the government has secured a grant to set up six standard cancer treatment centres. Already, the National Hospital in Abuja has two cancer treatment machines working; while the Lagos University Teaching Hospital cancer centreis being brought back to life.

Among measures being put in place to address the cancer menace is the spearheading of increase in tobacco tax to discourage its consumption. Tobacco has been identified as one of the major causes of cancer. Also, the government has continued to preach the gospel of healthy life styles, a cut down in alcoholic consumption and also on the kind of food consumed.In spite of these measures, cancer prevention awareness level in the country is still very low, according to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). Urging the government to increase cancer awareness so as to promote early detection, doctors lamented that screening rate in the country is the poorest in the world.Another problem confronting cancer patients in the country is the prohibitive cost of treatment in public hospitals. Many patients undergoing treatment at the National Hospital lamented that having to pay more than N7 million annually on chemotherapy treatment is beyond their reach.

Briefing journalists in Abuja on the occasion of the World Cancer Day, chairman of Abuja branch of NMA, Dr. Philip Ekpe, who read the speech of the association’s national president, said the high rate of deaths attributed to cancer is alarming and thus “calls for the inclusion of cancer control and treatment in the  service  covered  by the National  Health  Insurance  Scheme(NHIS) and necessary  measures taken to enhance  the coverage  to the scheme to more  Nigerians.”While commending the on-going renovation of cancer treatment facilities in tertiary hospitals in the country, NMA also pointed out that the country is in dire need of more cancer treatment centres.

“Cancer screening and early detection services need urgent intervention. This is very important to reduce the proportion of patients that present with advance disease associated with poor outcomes. We implore the government to ensure timely completion of ongoing projects on cancer treatment to increase access to treatment and ensure a progressive reduction in the incidence of cancer and cancer-related deaths in Nigeria.

“There should be at least one cancer centre in each of the states of the federation given the number of Nigerians that are down as a result of cancer. It is not too much if we have one center per state. The queue at the National Hospital needs to be reduced before someone having cancer will die on the queue waiting for treatment. It boils down  to  budgeting  to acquire the  facilities for treating cancer and also to encourage  the private  sector by reducing taxes on importation on medical  equipment and medical drugs,” NMA stated.

Source :

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