NOTWITHSTANDING the genetic risk factor, experts have said that several of the cancer diseases and deaths in the country today are actually preventable.
Specifically, up to 90 per cent of cancer are preventable if people embraced the habit of healthy lifestyle, regular health check and accessible care services.
The experts, who spoke at the recent World Cancer Day Symposium in Lagos, organised by Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), also asked for political will for improved access to care, requisite facility and expertise in cancer treatment.
Director General (DG) of NIMR, Prof. Innocent Ujah, in his opening address said no one should be in doubt of the problem at hand, adding that cancer was fast assuming status of an epidemic and require more attention than it is getting.
Ujah noted that cancer is a public health problem that affects all categories of persons. At least, everyone knows someone that either has cancer or had died of the disease. Currently, cancer is the second commonest cause of deaths in developed countries and among the three leading causes of deaths in developing countries.
According to him, about 12.4 per cent of all death are attributable to cancer and if the trend continues, it is estimated that by 2020, 16 million new cases will be diagnosed per annum, out of which 70 per cent will be developing countries.
“The burden of cancer in Nigeria, as in other African countries remains largely unknown because of lack of statistics and under reporting. Large proportions of the population do not seek orthodox medical care and so are never recorded and reported. Those who do seek medical care presently in late stages when an unfavorable outcome is almost a foregone conclusion, give rise to the high cases fatality rate associated with cancers in Nigeria,” he said.
Ujah reminded the authorities that the global action plan for cancer control by the World Health Organisation (WHO) had called for national, international and multi-sectoral action across multiple areas to reduce cancer risks in populations, and to strengthen healthcare delivery system for people with cancer. “Nigeria cannot afford to be different,” he said.
On his part, the DG informed that NIMR had keyed into this global action plan by establishing the Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Research Group, which is mandated to conduct research and develop institutional capacity in the area of common cancers in Nigeria.
To this end, the institute has also just completed the construction of a modern, state-of-the-art Cancer Research Centre (CRC) for comprehensive cancer research and care including high tech diagnostic facilities, Ujah said. The centre will be commissioned soon.
Apparently in agreement with Dr. Jerry Iwuoha that had said nine out of 10 cancers are preventable, Dr. Brai Bartholomew of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-araba observed that 35 per cent of all cancers are linked to nutrition issues, and when added to to that of lifestyle, they account for 85 per cent of all cancer cases.
He said it shows that cancers are preventable, with improved healthy lifestyle and right diet. Bartholomew advised the public to eat balanced calorie in accordance to energy demand, as well as exercise regularly.
While the advice suffices in preventing some cancer, there are others that are genetically-related. Head of the Clinical Trial Group, NIMR, Dr. Agatha David, observed that some childhood cancer have known causes, and between five to 15 per cent are genetic in nature.
David said causes of many childhood cancers, however, remain unknown because of unavailable modern diagnostic, treatment facility and skill capacity in the country.
South West Cancer Coordinator, Prof. Rosaline Anorlu noted that the high incidences of cancer were for reasons not unconnected with improved longevity, coupled with awareness that is still poor in the interior.
Anorlu said though government might not be unaware of the problem, but cancer care must become a priority for significant impact.
According to her, “You can always do something about cancer but unfortunately we don’t have many of these facilities yet. We do not even have palliative care centres for those that come with late disease. We don’t have hospitals for those people who are almost dying to just go and comfortably die in dignity and not in agony.”
“The government should have political will and commitment for cancer. This is so in some countries where there is political will and government commitment towards the control of cervical cancer, they have free screening for women and they have also made the vaccine available and almost free for children. So to control cancer in Nigeria, there should be political commitment.” she said.
Continuing, Anorlu said cancer is not beyond us, but there is still a long way to go in terms of prevention and treatment.
“When it comes to treatment of cancer we are talking about surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy but you find out that all these are not available in many places and where they are available the patients cannot afford it.
“Radiotherapy for example which is used to treat cancers is only available in very few centres and at any particular time you have only about three centres that their machines are working and when it comes to Chemotherapy, it is very expensive. A lot of patients cannot afford it,” she said.