Uganda: Why Cancer Rise Should Worry Us

Govt rolls out anti-cancer vaccine in schools (file photo).

In recent years, cancer has become one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide. It is estimated that 8.2 million people died of cancer in 2012 and 171,000 new cancer cases are reported every year.

It is estimated that the new cases will increase by 70 per cent over the next two decades.

Dr Dennis Buwembo, a public health specialist, says the most common types of cancer are prostate, cervix, breast cancer, oesophagus and Kaposi Sarcoma, which is related to HIV/Aids.

He adds: "The most common cancers in men are prostate, Kaposi Sarcoma, oesophagus, Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma (cancer of the white blood cells) and liver dancer. For women, it is cervix, breast, Kaposi sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and liver."

Dr Buwembo's findings are confirmed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2012 report, which lists cancer of the prostate, oesophagus and Kaposi sarcoma as the leading causes of cancer death among men in Uganda.

Dr Moses Galukande, a general surgeon at Kampala International Hospital, lists breast and cervical cancer as the most common cancers among women.

"We anticipate that in the next few years, breast cancer will be the commonest cancer among women," says Dr Galukande, who is a professor of surgery.

Uganda has one of the highest incidence rates of cervical cancer in the world. According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), cervical cancer is the most prominent of all cancers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Most common cancer

"Cervical cancer and the way we rate cancers, where we use a denominator of 100,000 people, it is 40 per 100,000 and then for breast cancer, we are approaching 40 per 100,000. To put it in context, especially for breast cancer, in the 1960s, we were counting 11 per 100,000 people, and today we are approaching 40 per 100,000 people," says Dr Galukande.

According to the WHO report, breast cancer occurs nearly 100 times more often in women than in men. It is diagnosed more in women aged 40 years and above.

Prostate cancer, on the other hand, is in most cases diagnosed in men of 50 years and above. It is the commonest cancer among men in Uganda.

"We are also seeing cancers of the liver and colon on the increase," Dr Galukande observes, adding that there are 40 cases of breast cancer per 100, 000 women. Tobacco is one of the causative factors of cancer, is described at unsafe no matter the level of use.

"Breathing even a little tobacco smoke can be harmful. Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful, including tobacco smoke. At least 69 can cause cancer," a CCCP report reads in part.

Obesity, linked to lifestyle, alcohol, radiation and chemicals in the environment are among other causes of cancer. The more alcohol you consume, the higher the risk of contracting cancer.

Risk factor

"Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of sugar and starch in the presence of yeast. The main types of alcoholic drinks may also contain a variety of carcinogenic contaminants that are introduced during fermentation and production," the report details, in part.

A carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide or radiation that promotes carcinogenesis, the formation of cancer.

Dr Buwembo observes that the survival rate of cancer in Uganda is low.

Do natural remedies cure or prevent cancer?

Going natural is one of the nutritional lifestyles. A number of fruits, plants, vegetables and herbs have become popular over time, thanks to recommendations by nutritionists and social media promoters, some motivated by commercial interests to promote certain products.

Social media has a number of such self-help groups where information is shared in line with nutrition or general feeding preferences, sometimes quoting scientific data or medical experts.

The soursop, for instance, has been linked to having preventive and healing elements against cancer. From cancer doctors, the intake of fluids, foods and supplements is advisable if medical personnel are consulted.

To understand it better, Dr Moses Galukande explains how the science of cancer begins. "Every cell in our body has a set of instructions on how it lives and for what period. The set of instructions are encoded in what we call DNA. When your DNA gets damaged, it can lead to cancer. Some people get their DNA damaged as they live while others inherit damaged DNA," he explains.

What it means, Dr Galukande says, is that if a woman inherits damaged DNA that is responsible for preventing breast cancer, they can develop that cancer much earlier.

How cancer develops

DNA damaged along the way will lead one to develop cancer later in life.

"What happens in the body is when DNA is damaged, the body has the ability to detect the damage and repair it but as you grow older, sometimes, the ability to repair our DNA reduces."

Dr Galukande explains that some of the things that help the body to repair damaged DNA, include food, fruits, vegetable and water. Dr Dennis Buwembo says no natural remedy can be cited to fight or prevent cancer but points at a generally good and rich diet.

"As a matter of fact, most medical cancer drugs we use were derived from plants. Do most of the remedies that people sell around town and claim to cure cancer do that? The answer is no. Do we recommend people to use them? The answer is no and why? If it was as easy as eating Kitafeeri (soursop) to cure cancer, we would not be having this problem. We would be growing farms and farms of the soursop," Dr Joseph Lubega, a paediatrician haematologist at Texas Children's Hospital in USA and Baylor College of Medicine, explains.

Dr Galukande agrees with Dr Lubega. "Should cancer develop and it is fully established in your body, then that food cannot reverse it anymore, so you need treatments to deal with that cancer. Good feeding is encouraged but people should not abandon the treatments we recommend and just take the food," the professor of surgery further explains.

To this end, Dr. Lubega argues that cancer is such an aggressive disease that often requires very intricate dosing medication, monitoring of the tumour; whether it is going away or not so by crudely eating a fruit, juice or herb, hoping cancer is going away, is something he does not advise.

"What I have heard but cannot confirm is that people buy cancer drugs and mix them with concoctions so you may see some effect and may think you are healing but you are exposing yourself to sub optimal standard doses of the drug which is not monitored," he observes.

"Diet does not cure cancer. It is good to have a healthy diet because an unhealthy one can be identified with cancer," Dr Wasswa explains.

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