A Professor of Radiation Medicine, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ifeoma Okoye, says one out of every five persons living with cancer dies in Nigeria.
Okoye blamed the death on late presentation and inability of patients to access specialist care due to financial constraints.
Already, experts say Nigeria is faced with acute shortage of manpower for cancer care, as well as inadequate treatment centres, even as new cancer cases surge.
According to the World Health Organisation, the cancer burden continues to grow globally, exerting tremendous physical, emotional and financial strain on individuals, families, communities and healthcare systems.
WHO says many health systems in low- and middle-income countries like Nigeria are least prepared to manage this burden, and large numbers of cancer patients globally do not have access to timely quality diagnosis and treatment.
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH Healthwise in commemoration of this year’s World Cancer Day, the cancer specialist said, “After detection, patients find it difficult to access specialist care because of the limited number of treatment centres within the country and also due to out-of-pocket payment of crippling medical bills.
“Little wonder that Nigeria has one of the worst cancer death statistics globally and in Africa.”
In terms of death rates for cancer patients in Nigeria, Okoye said, “One out of every five persons with cancer die due to late detection and lack of planned and structured screening programmes.”
Okoye, who is the foundation director of the University of Nigeria Centre for Clinical Trial, also attributed the death to what she described as “It is not my portion syndrome”, which she said was borne out of fear that cancer is a death sentence.
She also identified procrastination, stigmatisation and abandonment by family, especially ‘spousal rejection’ as other factors fuelling cancer deaths in Nigeria.
To reverse the trend, the oncologist recommended a shift of focus from what she described as sick care to preventive care in addition to improved early detection through massive awareness creation on the importance of regular screening.
“For breast cancer, they should practice regular ‘self-breast examination two to three days after their period. While they can get vaccinated against the Human Papillomavirus which causes cervical cancer (between ages nine to 14, and up to 26), and ensure regular screening with HPV testing or PAP’s Smear, or Visual Inspection Techniques with Colposcopy,” she said.
She noted that more effort should be focused on screening programmes and attention paid to lifestyle modifications and control of environmental pollutants .
According to her, food additives and sharp practices in food production should be checked .
“Poor handling of refuse disposal, such that both biodegradable and non bio-degradable are left to cause a lot of putrefaction fumes, and release of dangerous bio-wastes that can pollute also our drinking water sources, available to both humans and livestock.
“Vehicular fumes and industrial Fumes contribute seriously to environmental air pollution in Nigeria. Environmental pollution contributes up to 80 percent to risk factors for cancer. We recommend more vigilant oversight and legislature for stringent punitive measures.”
Okoye who is the founder of Breast Without Spot, urged Nigerians to embrace better health seeking habits as well as regular medical check ups to screen for non-communicable diseases.
World Cancer Day is held every 4th February to raise awareness about the disease. The theme for this year’s commemoration is ‘I Am and I Will.’
Another medical expert from the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria, Dr. Augusta Imomon,who is into cancer research, said the key to reducing the number of deaths arising from cancers is early detection and improved access to treatment.
“In terms of surviving cancer, patients can join support groups that comprise people who also have a similar condition, so they can support themselves and lend their voices.
“In addition, they should practice general preventive measures such as eating healthy and wholesome meals, maintaining a healthy weight, and being physically active, “ she said.
According to WHO, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths, or one in six deaths, in 2018.
The United Nations health agency says lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer are the most common types of cancer in men, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervical and thyroid cancer are the most common among women.
In an article published in The Lancet Oncology titled, ‘A roadmap for the early detection and diagnosis of cancer,’ the authors said patients diagnosed with cancer at an early stage have the best chance of curative treatment and long-term survival.
“If we are to beat cancer, early detection and diagnosis are arguably the most effective means we have at our disposal. For example, 57 percent of people with lung cancer survive their disease for five years or more when diagnosed at stage one compared with only three percent of those diagnosed at stage five”, the authors said.
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