By Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu
Monday was World Cancer Day. It is a day that the world is united with one mind, united by one voice, and united in a call to foster “a cooperative global commitment to improving the quality of life of cancer patients and the continued investment in and advancement of cancer research, prevention and treatment”. This year’s World Cancer Day is themed “I am and I will”. The aim is to get everyone involved in the fight against all forms of cancer by promoting actions and activities targeting at fighting cancer all over the world. The World Cancer Day was initiated by Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) in 2000 and celebrated by other organisations in many parts of the world since then. It is a matter of joy that Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN) has, consistently, led in the commemoration of the World Cancer Day with various activities in different States of Nigeria since 2007 and the impact has been tremendous.
For Nigeria, commemorating the world cancer day is not a question for debate knowing the burden of cancer in the country. In more recent times, the cancer burden in Nigeria is overwhelming to a greater degree than ever. Not only is the prevalence of cancer disease increasing at an exponential rate, the death toll that can be attributed to common forms of cancer are becoming alarming. Statistics as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that Nigeria holds one of the worst record for cancer mortality worldwide. The high level of cancer rate in developing countries like Nigeria follows simultaneously high incidence of numerous communicable diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and many others. Hence, countries like Nigeria have been tagged as countries with double pandemic – that is; countries where there is high level of communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases.
Our loss to cancer is devastatingly immeasurable. Each day, we think of the many stars we have lost and the many stars that never was as a result of cancer. We think of Dora Akunyili. We think of Gani Fawehinmi. We think of secondary school students who will no longer continue their education because their fathers, the bread winners of the families, have just given up to prostate cancer. We think of those sisters who are experiencing continuous sexual abuse because their mothers who would protect them had succumbed to breast cancer. This sad reality of ours is what NGO like BRECAN is working tirelessly to change, but efforts are being frustrated by the poor allocation of funds for cancer care and control in Nigeria.
Indeed, we are yet to get it right on the care of cancer patients as a country. It is sad to know that we barely have three functioning standard cancer treatment centres to offer cancer care services in a country of almost 200 million people. Indeed, it is no surprise that we currently rank top amongst countries with the highest cancer case fatality. It is no surprise we lose so much revenue to India through medical tourism most of which are cancer-related. It is also no surprise that we are economically weak due to poor productivity from a labour force with a sizeable number battling one form of cancer or the other. This year, we are calling on everyone to take action by demanding the leadership of Nigeria to prioritize cancer care.
To beat cancer, early detection and presentation remain the major predictor of patients’ survival. Most forms of cancer are very much treatable at the early stage. However, if treatment is delayed, cancer proceeds to a terminal stage where palliative treatment is the only option. It is therefore necessary for people to become aware of the most common forms of cancer, their risk factors, preventive measures, and the importance of early detection and presentation.
It is important to know that lifestyle is a major predictor of cancer. We should refrain from tobacco smoking, excess alcohol intake and engage ourselves in active exercise and consume more fruits and vegetables in place of unhealthy meals. It is equally important that every woman checks her breasts monthly by conducting breast self-examination to check for lumps and other unusual breast changes. Parents of young girls should ensure their daughters are vaccinated against HPV to significantly reduce their daughters’ risk of developing cervical cancer. Older women should visit the hospital once in three to five years to screen for cervical cancer.
The call to beat cancer is a call to all and we must all put resources together to fight the scourge. Whoever we are, wherever we are from, we must all take action to reduce cancer burden and hopefully end cancer as a life threatening disease.
Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu is the First Lady of Ondo State & Founder, BRECAN.