Breast cancer has now overtaken lung cancer as the world’s most commonly-diagnosed cancer, according to statistics released by the World Health Organisation on this year’s World Cancer Day, celebrated on February 4.
The statistics shows that in the past two decades, the overall number of people diagnosed with cancer nearly doubled, from an estimated 10 million in 2000 to 19.3 million in 2020.
“Today, one in five persons worldwide will develop cancer during their lifetime. Projections suggest that the number of people being diagnosed with cancer will increase still further in the coming years, and will be nearly 50 percent higher in 2040 than in 2020.
“The number of deaths from cancer has also increased — from 6.2 million in 2000 to 10 million in 2020. More than one out of every six deaths is due to cancer,” WHO said.
Projected increase is likely to be even greater, because of the multiple negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer care.
These staggering statistics should worry any nation and Nigeria, in particular, which is said to have the worst cancer statistics in Africa.
Already, experts say the country is faced with acute shortage of manpower for cancer care, as well as inadequate treatment centres, even as new cancer cases surge.
A Professor of Radiation Medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka/University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital,Enugu State, Ifeoma Okoye, says one out of every five persons with cancer die in Nigeria due to late presentation.
Okoye said another major challenge is out-of-pocket payment by cancer patients, which runs to almost N18 million as initial cost for a new patient with breast cancer.
After detection, she says, patients find it difficult to access specialist care because of the limited number of treatment centres within the country.
“Little wonder that Nigeria has one of the worst cancer death statistics globally and in Africa;” Okoye said, adding, “One out of every five persons with cancer die because of late detection due to lack of planned and structured screening programmes.”
According to the National Cancer Prevention Programme, there are currently over 200,000 cancer cases in Nigeria, with over 100,000 new cases occurring every year.
About 200 Nigerians die every day from cancer, with 32 of these daily cancer deaths resulting from breast cancer, 28 from cervical cancer, 16 from prostate cancer and 14 from liver cancer, NCPP claims.
Yet, despite these alarming statistics, one is yet to see renewed effort on the part of the Federal Government in responding to the challenge, especially in the area of provision of screening facilities and awareness creation.
During this year’s World Cancer Day, the Federal Government had announced the approval of 12 additional hospitals for chemotherapy in some tertiary hospitals across the country.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said, “I approved the inclusion of 12 additional hospitals in the ongoing Cancer Access Partnership Programme; this will increase the number of hospitals offering this service from seven as of the 2020 World Cancer Day to 19 as of today.”
The initial seven hospitals offering the service were National Hospital, Abuja; Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria; Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano; Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife; University College Hospital, Ibadan; Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba; and and University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Nsukka.
“The additional hospitals are Alex Ekwueme University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State; Jos University Teaching Hospital, Jos, Plateau State; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital, Bauchi; University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Ilorin, Kwara State; University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Calabar; and the Federal Teaching Hospital, Gombe.
“Others are the Federal Medical Centre, Birnin Kebbi; Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto; University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital; Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi; University of Benin Teaching Hospital; and Kalgo Medical Centre in Kebbi”, the minister said.
This, no doubt, is just a drop in the ocean, compared to the magnitude of the problem Except something decisive is done by the government, mortality from cancer will worsen Nigeria’s horrific maternal deaths, which have been described as totally unacceptable globally.
Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate is 512 per 100,000 live births, according to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey. To avoid double tragedy for our women, the government should wake up to its responsibilities and first invest in free cancer screening and awareness and also ensure that treatment facilities are available.
This is because when cancer is detected early, the cost and the burden of treatment is cheaper. Just like there is free screening for HIV and Hepatitis B, there should be free screening for the most common cancers in designated government hospitals.
Women should have the opportunity to have free mammogram, free breast scan so that when cancer is detected early, it will make treatment less difficult.
Again, the government should make the National Health Insurance Scheme work to reduce out-of-pocket payment for cancer patients.
The government must realise that losing women to preventable causes has devastating impact on the family, considering their role. Therefore, prevention is better than cure!
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