February 4th is marked annually as World Cancer Day. This annually ritual offers a chance to raise collective voices in the name of improving general knowledge and dismissing misconceptions about the disease.
The 2013 event s focuses on Target 5 of the World Cancer Declaration: Dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer, under the theme: "Cancer - Did you know?"
In this interview with Chioma Obinna a Professor Remi Ajekigbe, a professor of Radiotherapy & Oncology, and Head of Oncology Unit, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Idi Araba Lagos says 15 new cancers cases are diagnosed daily at the LUTH. He hints that the worst may yet to be heard about cancer in Nigeria.
Ajekibe warns that cancer has assumed epidemic level already in the country and urges Federal government to invest more in its management. Excerpts:
How Nigeria is faring in cancer management
As at now, Nigeria has not less than two million people suffering from cancer and not less than a 100,000 new cases every year. Of the 100,000 new cases only few have access to treatment because there are just three functional cancer centres for 160 million people and treatment is very expensive. LUTH has a linear accelerator, but what we need in Nigeria is at least, one machine for each geopolitical zone. . There should be at least two machines in each hospital so that when one breaks down you turn to the other.
Cancer is currently ravaging the country. There is nobody who doesn't know somebody who has either died from cancer or is presently suffering from cancer.
It is becoming an epidemic. What we are looking towards now is that in the late 30s, the question you will be asking your neighbour is which type is yours. It is the truth. If you say mine is breast cancer, somebody may say you are lucky.
Another person may say, his or hers is pancreas or cancer of the gall bladder. That is the truth. The country has to do something now, otherwise, there may be bigger problems.
The machine we are using now was bought by former Head of State, President Olusegun Obasanjo and that was the very first time the country could buy a machine for LUTH.
Others used in the past were given to us. One was by Canada and one by International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria. The country has to invest a lot more in cancer treatment otherwise a time will come when the question will be which type is yours.
Why the surge in cancer cases
We should blame everybody. It is the price we are paying for civilisation. First, is awareness, people are getting aware and they are coming to the hospital for check-ups. Second, we are all over-civilised now. We are eating chemicals and rubbing chemicals all over our body.
Some of these chemicals, that you rub on your body and armpit, they cross to the breast and cause cancer of the breast. This explains why more people have cancer in the left breast than the right breast because most of us are right handed when we apply these chemicals in the left axis they cross more in the left breast. These chemicals contain what we call parabens. We are defiling the environment; we are eating and rubbing chemicals all in the name of civilisation and that is the price we are seeing.
Can the poor survive cancer?
Even the rich may not survive cancer. It is nice to have money to treat cancer. Poor people will not survive as much as the rich and this is why we are telling the government that health insurance should include cancer because the treatment is very expensive.
The drugs, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy are all very expensive. Everything about cancer is very expensive. Government should be involved in treatment and also invest more, the National Health Insurance Scheme,NHIS should cover cancer even if it is only 25 per cent of the cause of cancer treatment.
New cases at LUTH
Not less than 15 new cases are seen every day. Out of the new cases, nine will be breast cancer in women. Breast cancer is still the leading cancer in Nigeria.
Genetics and cancer
Cancer is a genetic problem. We only talk about the etiological factor that is factors that can lead to cancer in anybody. And one of them is the genetic factor. If your blood relation had breast cancer, the chances of you also having is very high.
But in this part of the world we will not cut off the breasts, we will tell you to examine your breasts for early detection. Because we know that you will have it before the age that your mother had it. There is nothing you can do about genetic factor because we did not choose our parents.
Diabetes and cancer
In cancer, there are certain diseases we call co-morbidities. This means that you have a disease and you have another one that is related. If a patient with cancer has diabetes, the prognosis is very bad. The patient most likely will not survive.
Diabetes is the worst co-morbidities anybody can have with cancer. In most cases we ask questions are you diabetic because most of the treatment we give, if there is diabetes it will worsen the diabetes.
But once we find out that a patient has diabetes we call in a diabetolgist to co-manage the disease. The only thing that I am thinking that can make people with diabetes survive is this drug which is still in tablet form, known as Metformin glucophage. It is not yet in injection form.
Unfortunately, most times these people are conscious you cannot give anything orally, unless this Metformin can be converted to an injection form, I believe many of the will survive
Nutrition and cancer
All of those things we add to our foods that makes them sweeter and will make us to rush them are chemicals. They are all cancernorgenic . When they advertise them they say it tastes better all of them are addictives. They are all junks.
Message on World Cancer Day
You owe yourself every day, if you notice anything unusual about yourself see your doctor. Any lump, any thickening, anywhere in your body particularly your breasts, your lips and tongue, see your doctor.
If there is any bleeding from any natural openings like, your private part, nose, mouth, anus etc, report to your doctor.
If you are up to 40 and your bowel habit has changed; for instance; you are going to toilet once a day normally, then, it becomes thrice a day, something is wrong with your gastro intestinal system.
If your voice is changing, please see your doctor.
A woman who bleeds from the private part when she should not be bleeding (inter menstrual bleeding) or bleeding during intercourse or after, or if you have finished your menses and you are now post menopausal and you feel that your menses have come back, please note that menses do not come back after menopause.
Any bleeding after menopause is suspicious of cancer. Any unusual thing should be reported.