Oncology Experts Call for Improved Breast, Cervical Cancer Care


Martins Ifijeh

Following the increased incidence of breast and cervical cancer among Nigeria women, oncology experts have said delay in presentation and bottle necks in hospitals are affecting cancer care in Nigeria.

They said this during the Society of Oncology and Cancer Research of Nigeria’s (SOCRON) three-day conference on Multi-disciplinary Cancer Management Course (MCMC), in collaboration with the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
The conference was themed: “Implementation of Resource Level Appropriate Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention, Diagnostics and Management.”

The team of experts lamented that the incidence of breast and cervical cancer in Nigeria keeps increasing due to lesser number of women presenting early in hospitals, as well as other factors which include: unavailability of funds to drive treatment, fewer medical manpower, lack of cancer centres, equipment and machines, and delay in diagnosis at public hospitals, as well as patients attitudes and beliefs.

Professor of General Surgery, Breast and Endocrine, University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, King David Terna Yawe, had a presentation titled: “Delayed Presentation and Clinical Features of Breast Cancer in Nigeria”.

He said many of the factors affecting cancer care in Nigeria include: the location of the patients in rural communities, inadequate facilities and experts to attend to them as well as the potent issues of money, as patients have to pay for treatment and other healthcare services in the hospital, describing it as a ‘cash-and-carry system’.

He said government needs to expand health facilities, provide more clinic space as well as have more availability of time and resources to attend to patients among the huge Nigerian population.

Yawe, who is also the Vice President, SOCRON, stressed on the need to address the issue of cancer care in Nigeria with a more robust health insurance policy that covers everybody, noting that at the moment, the health insurance scheme covers roughly about five per cent of the population and practically mostly civil servants.

He also added that to achieve total coverage of all Nigerians, the government must explore community-based health insurance system if we want to cover a bulk of the population.

Yawe said cancer care should be added as primary healthcare, noting that bulk of the population resides at that local level, and that the minimal examination of a patient does not have to be done in specialist hospital, if the primary health system is working well, which could be a veritable source of referral.

“We are also treating breast cancer as a community health problem, so we should first commence the dealing with that matter in the community,” he added.

Also speaking on training manpower as effective measure to achieve success in cancer care, the Director, Breast Health Global Initiative of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Dr. Benjamin Anderson, said, “In terms of early detection, we found that part of the problem can be that the primary care clinicians that first meet the patient don’t really know what breast cancer is like and so they send the patients away rather than doing a diagnostic work up.

“Sometimes the surgeons will make a mistake, they will cut out the cancer and throw it away. Cutting it out only removes the problem, but it doesn’t tell you how to treat it. You have to analyse the tumor, figure out what type of breast cancer it is and then provide the treatment”.

Anderson, who is also a Professor of Surgery and Global Health-Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle said the responsibility of positioning addressing the problems in the Nigeria health system rests on the government, the health ministries and other stakeholders, as no foreign could do that for the country.

Speaking on the benefit of the conference, the President of SOCRON, who is also a Professor of Surgery, University of Ibadan, Clement Adebamowo, said it was for stakeholders to appreciate that there is now enough scientific knowledge about how to reduce death from the many types of cancer, which are not been applied in Nigeria.

The Professor of Epidemiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine also commented on the implementation of the National Cancer Control Plan 2018-2022, saying, though, government should be congratulated for coming up with the policy, the Executive arm of the government and the legislature need to work together to provide funds and resources needed to back it up from being just a policy on paper.