Cancer: The Killer Disease Ravaging Nigerians

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As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark this year’s World Cancer Day, experts have again warned about this killer disease, calling for all hands to be on deck to overcome the growing challenge. Martins Ifijeh writes

It is no longer news that one of the health issues currently ravaging the country is cancer, which unfortunately kills 10 Nigerians per hour or 240 persons per day. What seems to be the news, according to available statistics is that this figure will double in the nearest decade if nothing is done to reduce the disease which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said was preventable.

While over two million Nigerians are living with one form of cancer or the other, a WHO report shows that well over 100,000 new cases of cancers are diagnosed yearly in Nigeria, out of which 80,000 of those affected die, especially from the commonest cancer types in the country due to lack of proper awareness on prevention or early detection, or lack of facilities for treatment.

For instance, if the data from the 2014 national cancer survey is to go by, it means breast cancer kills over 40 Nigerian women daily, prostate cancer kills at least 26 Nigerian men daily, while cervical cancer kills about 26 Nigerian women every day. Experts also believed these figures must have likely increased by the end of 2016.

Available information suggests that this figure will snowball into an uncontrollable health issue for the country within the next decade because of various identifiable factors which experts say must be looked at if the country must win the war against the disease.

Among the identified factors are; late presentation of cancer cases, lack of adequate facilities to match the diseases, high cost of treatment, among other factors. But chief among these factors, according to some school of thoughts is the late presentation of cases by Nigerians, which has seen treatment and management of the disease difficult for professionals to handle, thereby leading to thousands of deaths yearly.

It is in tackling these issues that experts are advocating for scale up from all stakeholders, government and the citizens, as cancer cases were becoming an overwhelming burden on the country.

According to the Head of Department, Radiotherapy and Oncology, National Hospital, Abuja, Dr. Rasaq Oyesegun, the disease accounts for more deaths in the country than HIV and tuberculosis put together, adding that the burden of the scourge can be reduced through scaled up efforts.

Oyesegun, who spoke during the commemoration of this year’s World Cancer Day, tagged: I can, We can’, said factors that can predispose one to cancer were genetic, obesity, hormonal, lifestyle changes, smoking, among others.

“Though one third of cancer can be treated when diagnosed earlier, the late presentation of cases by people living with the disease, general attitude of the public, lack of awareness, illiteracy, and lack of organised legislated screening scheme were some of the challenges in addressing the burden of the disease,” he said.

The expert said that some patients, after being diagnosed of cancer, tactically run away from the treatment centres out of shame or fear of death. He described cancer treatment as very expensive, saying that the cost of treatment further compounds such problem.

He, however, appealed to the government to prioritise the inclusion of cancer treatment in the National Health Insurance Scheme.

The Oncologist said its inclusion in the scheme would further ameliorate the sufferings of the patients with regard to reduction in the treatment cost.

A Consultant Radiation Clinical Oncologist, Dr. Festus Igbinoba said for the burden of cancer to reduce in the country, government must make it a priority to address it, adding that, “if money budgeted for cancer prevention and treatment by the government is promptly released, it can go a long way in addressing the burden.

“State of cancer treatment is still far from the desired. Government must rise up to its responsibilities by ensuring that equipment for cancer treatment is of good quality and standard. Government must also sign maintenance agreement with whichever country is supplying such equipment to ensure prompt response in an event of any breakdown, ” he added.

Igbinoba, who is also the President, Association of Radiotherapists and Clinical Oncologists of Nigeria, also called on Nigerians to stop living in denial, noting that the attitude and behaviour of some patients lead to the increased mortality rate. “Some of them reject results of diagnosis and even run away from surgeries or chemotherapy.”

He described as pathetic the agony some patients go through in the course of treatment, saying that many of them travel long distance just to receive treatment, as this was killing more than the cancer itself.

He said that many of such patients might not be able to receive treatment on the appointment day due to the breakdown of chemotherapy machines and other cancer machines.

On her part, an Ocular Oncologist, Dr. Abia Nzelu, while making a presentation during a summit of Journalist Against Cancer in Nigeria (JaCiN) to commemorate the World Cancer Day, called for more awareness programmes with immediate intervention in the fight against the disease.

According to her, cancer was responsible for almost one in six deaths globally, saying that more than 14 million people develop cancer every year. “This figure is projected to rise over 21 million by 2030, and this is why awareness programme with immediate intervention is necessary in the fight against cancer.”

She said efforts must be put on ground to reduce the steady increase of the incidence rate, adding that in 2008, 14 deaths were recorded in prostate cancer yearly, but that by 2012, about 26 deaths were already recorded.

Nzelu said that Nigeria needs Mobile Cancer Centre and comprehensive cancer screening in
order to have a significant reduction of cancer cases. Adding that the structure of the Mobile Cancer Centre should include awareness, screening and treatment, through the base centre that would be attached to the mobile centres.

“The big war against cancer is aimed at taking cancer prevention and health promotion to the grassroots. We will be establishing four mobile screening centres in Nigeria, and it will be distributed to four regions in Abuja, Lagos, Asaba and Port Harcourt.

“The equipment has a lifespan of 20 years. The programme will go from one community to the other to screen people free and this will start operation by the middle of the year,” she said.

She however, called on governments at all levels, philanthropists, stakeholders and the media to contribute toward creating awareness that would help in early diagnosis of cancer.

Meanwhile, WHO has launched a new cancer guideline, tagged: ‘Guide to cancer early diagnosis’ which is aimed at improving the chances of survival for people living with cancer by ensuring that health services can focus on diagnosing and treating the disease early.

Stating this recently, the Director, WHO’s Department for the Management of Non- communicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, Dr. Etienne Krug, said, “Diagnosing cancer in late stages, and the inability to provide treatment, condemns many people to unnecessary suffering and early death, adding that, “By taking the steps to implement the new guideline, 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,” he added.