Windhoek — As Namibia and the rest of the world observe World Cancer Day today, there is an urgent need for action to increase early-stage cancer detection, screening and diagnosis to significantly improve cancer patients' chances of survival, Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN) CEO Rolf Hansen said.
Hansen said that the majority of cancers are amenable to early detection.
"When cancer is detected at an early stage and when coupled with appropriate treatment, the chance of survival beyond five years is dramatically higher than when detected at a later stage when the tumour has spread and the disease is more advanced," said Hansen. Early detection can equally reduce the cost of treatment, advised Hansen.
Studies in high-income countries show that treatment costs for early-diagnosed cancer patients are two to four times less expensive than treating those diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer, stated Hansen.
Also, there are a number of individual-level factors that can affect early detection and screening attendance, the CAN CEO noted.
Age can largely influence someone's ability to understand and communicate their early symptoms of cancer, making children particularly vulnerable, Hansen highlighted. However, childhood cancers are generally some of the most highly treatable forms of cancers - 80 percent of childhood cancers are curable if prompt diagnosis and treatment is given, he said.
Furthermore, masculine gender norms, combined with a broader lack of men's health promotion, can prevent help-seeking behaviour even when men might suspect cancer early on.
"The strongest factor associated with men's help-seeking behaviour has been shown to be the encouragement and support of spouses and family members," Hansen pointed out.
Socio-economic status can also present barriers to early help-seeking, he remarked.
A Danish study found a strong association between a lower level of education and fear of what a doctor might find, said Hansen.
Meanwhile, individuals with higher socio-economic status (higher education, employed, and with a higher income) anticipated being too busy to seek medical help, pointed out Hansen.
"Feelings of shame and fear, combined with poor health awareness and cultural beliefs, can also keep an individual from utilising medical care or screening programmes," he stated.
He further referenced an Australian study of indigenous women which found shame, fear, and lack of knowledge as barriers to participating in mammographic screenings, while another study of the Assyrian migrant population in Australia found that cultural beliefs, like maintaining purity, hindered participation in cervical screening programmes.
The national theme for this year's World Cancer Day is 'I am Namibia and I will inspire change'.