Lifestyle fuelling breast cancer in Nigeria

In recent times, the word ‘cancer’ has become popular amongst Nigerians. While late presentation of patients at advanced stages of breast cancer is becoming a common trend in Nigeria, global statistics reveal that rising global incidence of breast cancer is occurring at a faster rate in populations of developing nations, including Nigeria that hitherto enjoyed low incidence of the disease, considered by many as a death sentence.

Recent data by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) shows that one woman is diagnosed of breast cancer every 20 minutes in Nigeria and about 40 Nigerian women die of breast cancer daily, up from 30 women daily in the 2010 report. The incidence of breast cancer rose from 38.7 percent to 42.2 percent between 2008 and 2012 with about 35 percent rise in the number of deaths within the same period.

As rising cases of cancer and cost implications of treatment put Nigerians on the edge since the current minimum wage of N18,000 may not be able to afford diagnosis, let alone procure the right medical service to manage the ailment, cancer has increasingly become a scourge lately, a situation experts say can be nipped in the bud through improved health education.

In an interview with Lola Salako, clinical radiation oncologist, Sebeccly Cancer Care, said whereas late presentation of cancer in hospitals was due to ignorance, early detection and prompt treatment is the key to surviving this deadly disease.

Salako stated that the major non-modifiable risk factors of breast cancer include gender, age, genetics, family or personal history of breast cancer, race and menstrual history. The clinical oncologist noted that lifestyle-related factors such as diet, obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, using hormone replacement therapy, taking birth control pills, etc. are modifiable risk factors that fuel breast cancer.

According to Salako, “Early detection remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control. When breast cancer is detected early and if adequate diagnosis and treatment are available, there is a good chance that it can be cured. If detected late, curative treatment is often no longer an option. In such case, palliative care to relief the sufferings of patients and their families is needed.

She continued: “Majority of deaths occur in countries where most women are diagnosed in later stages due to lack of awareness on early detection and barriers to health services, a situation that can be reverted if adequate public health programmes are put in place. Government should be involved in treatment and should invest more. The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) should cover cancer, even if it is only 25 percent of the cause of cancer treatment.”

With the socio-economic toll of cancer becoming a huge public health concern, dominating healthcare expenditures in developed and developing countries, including Nigeria, Bristow Helicopters Nigeria Limited said it is partnering Sebeccly Cancer Care to improve health education on cancer in Nigeria.

Mayowa Babatunde, coordinator, Bristow Uplift and Business Development Manager, Bristow Helicopters Limited, stated that as part of its corporate social responsibility, the Company deemed it fit to begin cancer education among its staff and beyond.

While reaching out to women in the rural areas might be a challenge, Babatunde noted that improving health education with alongside preventive programmes will be a step in the right direction in reducing the number of Nigerians coming down with cancer annually.

BusinessDay investigations show that an individual is likely to spend about N67,000 for breast scan, mammogram, biopsy and other tests. An average surgery costs between N80,000 and N150,000, while chemotherapy cost ranges between N100,000 and N500,000. Targeted therapy in the country cost as much as over N4 million, putting more financial pains on cancer patients and their caregivers.

No doubt, breast cancer treatment and management is a big challenge in Nigeria largely due to limited resources. Stakeholders say it is high time government at all levels focuses on largely treatable diseases by providing necessary funds that will make the establishment of screening centres nationwide a priority.

A cursory look at cancer management in the country shows that Nigeria is ill equipped to deal with the complexities of cancer care with dearth in healthcare infrastructure, with inadequate clinical services. Only a few health centres have functioning radiotherapy equipment, and the cost of care remains out of reach for most Nigerians who have received a cancer diagnosis.

Public health experts believe the greatest reduction in cancer should come from a complete government approach to adopting population-wide interventions that address risk factors, sustained primary health-care measures, prioritised packages of essential interventions, palliative and long-term care, should be implemented for those who already have cancer.

No doubt, planning integrated, evidence-based and cost effective interventions throughout the cancer continuum (from research to prevention, early detection, treatment, palliative care) is highly effective in tackling the problem of cancer and reducing the suffering caused to patients and their families.

Source by Alexander Chiejina

Photo Credit: Aham Ibeleme

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