Yesterday February 4 was World Cancer Day; a day set aside by the United Nations (UN)/World Health Organisation (WHO) every year to raise awareness about cancer and encourage its research, prevention, detection and treatment.
Cancer encompasses a wide range of complex diseases affecting various organs in the body. It is the leading cause of the death worldwide, according to World Health Organization (WHO).
Despite this ailment being a scourge, its awareness, prevention and treatment is surprisingly still poor in Nigeria. It is really sad the way we take health issues in this country.
During the last general elections, neither All Progessive Congress (APC) nor People’s Democratic Party (PDP) mentioned health in their mainfesto. All focus was on economy, infrastructure and anti-corruption war.
Nigeria economy greatly depends on crude oil production in the oil-rich areas and the price of crude oil in the international market. However, there is still little or no awareness about the possible health hazards like cancer that will develop over time in those areas as a result of the exploration and exploitation of crude oil.
Cancer is unfortunately ubiquitous; we are all affected by it whether directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously. Cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) are present in the air, food and water we are exposed to. Drugs, hormones, viruses, petrochemicals, bacteria, metals, radiation, tobacco, obesity and increased alcohol intake all increase cancer risk.
The U.S. Department of Health Services estimated that about two-third of all cancer cases worldwide is linked to our environment and our life style choices. WHO also estimated that about 100,000 new cancer cases occur in Nigeria annually.
This highlights the dire need for us, as a people, to prepare for the Tsunami that is about to break in cancer by raising awareness and promoting research for prevention and treatment of all cancer types. This will go a long way in reducing cancer incidence and cancer-related deaths in Nigeria.
Luckily, cancer incidence is still lower in Nigeria than developed nations like the United Kingdom (UK) so there is need to nip it in the bud. James M. Allan, a Professor of Cancer Genetics at Newcastle University, suggested that the difference in life expectancy at birth in both countries may be the reason behind this.
The current life expectancy at birth in Nigeria is 52.62 years whilst life expectancy at birth in the UK is 80.54 years (source: CIA World Fact Book). And the median age of most cancers at diagnosis is often between 60 and 68 years.
The most prevalent cancers in Nigeria are breast, cervical and prostrate cancers. Cancer treatments are expensive but these are curable if detected early. The outlook for patients with these cancers is much better than two to three decades ago, with better cure rates and longer term disease freesurvival.
However, cancer treatment centres are very few in the country. And most of them lack modern equipment for diagnosing and treating the condition. It was reported last year that only two radiotherapy machines are functional in the country.
The Federal Government, in conjunction with the state and local governments, need to float and equip more mobile centres throughout the country to fight this scourge. And also create awareness about the causative factors, preventative measures, likely treatment options and facilities where such treatments are available. I implore them to also make provisions in the annual budget for extensive researches into all cancer types affecting Nigerians.
Cancer is no respecter of age, sex, ethnicity, religion, class, wealth, beauty, talent, intelligence, fame or power. But together we can all do something about cancer. Join the fight against cancer.