"We should keep talking about cancer. The prediction is that HIV and all the other infections will reduce while cancer is increasing. We need more awareness."
Such was the comment of Dr. Kin J-Egwuonwu, National Coordinator, National Cancer Prevention Programme, NCPP, during the recent breast cancer and cervical cancer screening carried out for 10,000 women in Surulere local government area of Lagos State.
Egwuonu who lamented the alarming incidence of cancer in the country, said: "We need to increase awareness about cancer screening so that people will go for screening at the right time and not wait. People are really dying untimely deaths unnecessarily, and at a young age. People need to take their health seriously.
"Cancer is the number one killer of mankind, and in today's world one in every three persons is diagnosed with cancer," notes Egwuonwu.
About 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer annually, and about 80,000 die (10 deaths every hour). The Nigerian cancer death ratio (4 : 5) compares unfavourably with other nations. Most of these deaths can be prevented, through awareness, early detection and first-class treatment.
On the outcome of the screening exercise, Egwuonu opined that those who participated had been better infoirmed about the precautions to take with cancer as well as where to go to seek help.
"We had people that were positive, we had abnormanl cervical cases, there were breast problems, lumps, and other complications. This was combined with eye screening, to encourage the screening and of course because the eye is also important and vulnerable to cancer.
"There were many people with glaucoma at advanced stages, which means they did not know because glaucoma is silent and the affecetd person may go blind in one eye before noticing it. There were also people with growths in the eye that were not cancerous.
"Many women had changes in the cervix. Usually about 4 out of 100 womwn will be positive for cervical cancer, but incidence for breast cancer is higher. It was not surprising we found those changes."
Noting that Nigeria currently has no comprehensive cancer centre, Nigerians are compelled to spend over $200 million annually on treatment abroad, he lamented the lack of facilities to treat cancer in Nigeria, especially at the end stage.
"People have no option other than to go abroad. They travel and still die. In sharp contrast, India has over 120 cancer centres, mostly established through non-governmental effort, with private sector support.
Further, Egwuonu said for women, screening for should begin from the age of 18 and should be yearly, because the aim is to catch changes early for easy treatment.
He said when caught early, breast and cervical cancer are easily treatable and the treatment would not be too expensive. Also the chances of survival is higher and there wouldn't be a need to go abroad. There are other cancers that also kill and are not commonsuch as colorectal cancer that kills about 4,000 yearly.
"It is still significant and detectable through colonoscopy. Though screenings, and some of the cases can be treated with cryotherapy and the cancer is not likely to progress, we need good facilities.
"A cancer care centre would provide all this including early detection, and resection. Each type of cancer has the early stage that can be treated (polyp). What we have in Nigeria is not the best for treating the early stages, that is awhy we need the comprehensive cancer centre. We need sophisticated equipment to detect the early stages."
Egwuonu said the Port Harcourt Cancer Centre,PHCC, a non-profit, non-governmental initiative of the NCPP, has a goal to set up a comprehensive cancer centre in each of Nigeria's six zones, with the PHCC in the South-South as the first of the six.