The recent alarm on rising global incidence of cancer by the World Health Organisation (WHO) should worry African countries, including Nigeria, where the disease is most prevalent.
Available statistics show that cancer killed 7.6 million persons in 2008 worldwide, and there is indication that the figure could double to 13 million by 2030.
According to WHO, cancer accounts for 13 percent of all deaths registered globally and 70 percent of that figure occurs in middle and low income countries.
In Nigeria, about 10,000 cancer deaths are recorded annually while 250,000 new cases are recorded yearly. It is also worrisome that only 17 percent of African countries are said to have sufficiently funded cancer control programmes, while less than half of all countries in the world have functional plans to prevent the disease and provide treatment and care to patients.
WHO indicates that the shortage of functional cancer control plans is especially alarming in developing countries, which already account for more than two-thirds of the new cancer cases and deaths each year.
According to Dr. Andreas Ullrich of WHO’s Department of Chronic Diseases, the situation might get worse in metropolitan areas of the developing world as populations age and increasingly feel the impact of exposure to major risk factors such as tobacco, certain chemicals and infections.
Ullrich also explains that up to a third of all cancer deaths are linked to “modifiable risks” like tobacco, obesity and harmful use of alcohol. Despite the seeming gloomy cancer outlook, Dr. Oleg Chestnov, of WHO’s Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health Unit, assures that cancer should not be “a death sentence anywhere in the world, as there are proven ways to prevent and cure many cancers.”
Also, there are vaccines that can prevent some infections linked to cancer including hepatitis B, which can cause liver cancer and human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer.
However, Ullrich explains that if detected early, many types of cancer can be cured. We commend the WHO for the timely alert and urge the nation’s health authorities to step up cancer awareness, prevention and treatment. Most cancer treatment centres in Nigeria today lack modern diagnostic equipment for diagnosing the condition. Generally, there is lack of awareness on the disease, especially the causative factors, preventative measures, likely treatment options and facilities where such treatments are available.
In Nigeria, members of the public still see cancer as a disease of the wealthy, the elderly and developed countries. Many sufferers of the disease in the country still regard it as their fate and, as such, a death sentence. Cancer is not just a health issue; it has far-reaching social and economic implications.
It also does not discriminate. It is a global epidemic that affects all ages with low and middle income countries bearing a disproportionate burden of it. There are many types of cancer.
In Nigeria, breast and cervical cancers are commonest among women while prostate cancer is more prevalent in men. Since there is low awareness of the disease in the country as at now, more efforts should be directed in the area of massive awareness creation for the general populace.
Nigerians should be enlightened on what causes the condition, preventative measures and available treatment options. The disease should no longer be treated as a death sentence or something that has to do with fate. The public should be sensitized on predisposing lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking, obesity, lack of exercise and exposure to carcinogenic products and elements.
There is also the need for regular medical check up considering the fact that early detection of the disease is paramount to its cure.
Government should set up a comprehensive cancer control programme. Let the Federal Ministry of Health spearhead nationwide campaigns targeted at reducing the cancer scourge in the country. States and local governments should also join hands with the federal government in the fight against cancer in all its ramifications.