Thought Leadership

Cancer: Time to wake up to the challenge in Nigeria!

3 Mins read

As the world marks World Cancer Day, it forces us to focus again on the challenge of prevention, detection and treatment of cancer in Nigeria. Most families in Nigeria have been confronted with cancer’s devastating diagnosis, and the opportunities for management are hardly better than they were 30 years ago.

This year’s World Cancer day continues the multipronged campaign WeCanICan, which highlights the need for cancer initiatives to focus on both community and individual interventions.

In a recent report Nigeria was said to have contributed the most to cancer prevalence numbers in Africa with 102,000 reported new cases in the year of 2012. The report also shows that just over 10 percent of Nigerians are at the risk of getting cancer before they get to the age of 75.

A news article pointed out that in Nigeria the highest burden of cancers fall on women. The article quoted Professor Aderemi Ajekigbe of Radiotherapy and Oncology at the College of Medicine, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). Ajekigbe noted at the inaugural lecture of the University of Lagos that “women are at a higher risk of getting cancer, with more than 40% of cancer cases in Nigeria occurring in females. Topping the list of common cancer cases were breast and cervical cancer.”

According to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP- Nigeria), 30 Nigerian women die every day of breast cancer while one Nigerian woman dies every hour of cervical cancer. This Pan-African Medical Journal research article pointed out that Prostate cancer (CaP) is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Nigerian men but screening is not a common practice. As a result the true burden of the disease in Nigeria is not known. Another news article quoted Men’s Health Foundation founder Professor Dr. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu as saying that 26 men in Nigeria die of prostate cancer every day.

Despite these numbers, little has been highlighted about any concerted effort to deal with this alarming trend in Nigeria.

Since detection is so often late in Nigeria and options for care are so limited, the focus this year on an awareness campaign will encourage everyone – as a collective or as individuals to do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer.

If individuals and collective bodies each have roles to play, how can these roles be maximized to ensure that the burden of cancer in Nigeria begins to see a downward spiral? What roles can communities and individuals play in the fight against cancer?

The science makes it clear that diet and lifestyle play a crucial role in causing cancer. According to a WHO study, 30% of cancer deaths are caused by five leading behavioral and dietary risks: being overweight, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, little or no exercise, tobacco use, and alcohol use. Of these, tobacco use has the highest risk of causing for cancer, causing around 20% of global cancer deaths and around 70% of global lung cancer deaths.

An obvious step in the right direction would be to steer clear of these risks.  Interventions to change behavioural patterns in communities must then focus on how to encourage citizens to reduce their risk factors and embrace healthy lifestyle practices.  The ability to inspire Nigerian citizens to become proactive about fighting the risk of developing cancers by leading healthier lives is one task that falls to everyone; the Federal Ministry of Health and all its partners, Civil Society Organisations, the Media, Nigerian celebrities and those in positions of influence. This is where community engagement and concerted action can begin to show positive results. If we are able to coalesce under one banner to fight cancer, to really advocate for changes in the way Nigerians live, to call for measures that enable us to breathe better, to stress less, to eat healthier, we will become stronger together.

The multi-pronged approach of the WeCanICan campaign in combating the rise of cancer worldwide includes the call for nations to shape policy change. One such policy that can begin to bring about the needed changes in Nigeria is a proposed bill presented by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Lanre Tejuoso, for an Act to provide for the establishment of a National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment in Nigeria. Such an institute, if established, could fill the void in cancer research, diagnosis and care in Nigeria. Senator Tejuoso, while presenting the report on the Bill to the Senate for the third and final reading, said;

“It is sad to note, that Nigeria has not done enough to fight cancer as evident by lack of adoption of a national strategy that focuses on research, improved awareness and provision of treatment centres. This certainly must be the reason the spread of the ailment is not abating in Nigeria.”

Governments, communities, schools, employers and media can challenge perceptions about cancer and dispel damaging myths and misconceptions so that all people are empowered to access accurate cancer information and quality cancer prevention and care.

As we wait for the intricacy of government proceedings to work its way to implementation of a cancer institute, we must remember that the while the presence of this and many such structures are important, the onus still rest largely on individuals to adopt  healthy lifestyles in order to prevent the occurrence of cancer.

As the world marks Cancer Day, the Nigerian health sector must wake up to the importance of making conscious efforts to reduce the burden of cancer in our country. It is our responsibility to leave the world a better place for our children and the generations to come.



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