An estimated 10,704 new cancer cases involving 4,520 males and 6,184 females were recorded last year according to Dr François Uwinkindi, the Director of Cancer Programme at Rwanda Biomedical Centre.
He was talking to Sunday Times during a consultative meeting of stakeholders in fighting cancer in Kigali on Saturday.
"8,200 new cancer cases were recorded in 2017 which increased to over 10,700 new cancer cases in 2018," he said adding that there is a need to begin shifting resources toward the imminent burden.
Of the recorded cases, breast and cervical cancers are the most common in women while prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, and colorectal cancer as the third most common cancer.
Others include stomach cancer, liver cancer, and others.
He said National Cancer Registry has been established to help provide cancer-related data in Rwanda. Dr Uwinkindi urged people to embrace screening for early detection and be aware of prevention measures.
"Some cancers are preventable since the risk factors are modifiable. For instance, people can avoid tobacco, beer, fight obesity but others are not preventable because some cancers might be hereditary in families," he said.
In terms of treatment, Dr Uwinkindi said that there was vaccination to prevent certain types of cancer.
"Today 93 per cent of young girls are vaccinated against cervical cancer. We have also vaccination against Hepatitis C and treatment drugs are available," he said.
The main challenges that are still leading to cancer-related deaths, he explained, include lack of people's knowledge about the disease, low participation in the medical check-up and limited financial capacity for those who need treatment.
"Many people seek treatment at a late stage. We need to enforce measures for early detection of cancer in order to get early treatment. Many people sell their properties due to the high costs of cancer treatment. The lowest treatment cost is $5,000 and it can even rise up to $100,000 or $200,000. We are mulling over a fund that can support cancer patients to afford the cost," he noted.
He added that the other way to make treatment affordable is working and negotiating with drug manufacturers to devise ways of reducing prices.
"We also have to work with insurance service providers to also play a role in affordable treatment costs," he added.
The expert added that oncologists are also still a few in the country.
"There are over 100 types of cancers and each discipline should have 10 medical specialists. Treating cancer needs a multidisciplinary treatment team. Treatment involves surgery, drugs, and radiotherapy," he noted. He said that there are only two medical oncologists in the country and four radiation oncologists.
According to Dr Chite Fredrick, the Director of International Cancer Institute, there was a need for a multidisciplinary treatment team, national cancer control plan, electronic medical records to manage data related to cancer among other challenges.
Dr Pacifique Mugenzi, the Director of Radiotherapy Center at Rwanda Military Hospital said that over the past two months they have recorded between 40 and 50 cancer patients every day.
"Last week alone, we received over 165 cancer patients. We need more awareness campaigns for early detection to avoid the high number of people who come when it has reached a critical stage because they cannot even afford the costs," he said.
Dr Solange Hakiba , the Deputy Director-General, fund management at RSSB reiterated that the main challenge they face is high costs of cancer drugs and thus community-based health insurance - Mutuelle de Santé - cannot cover it.
"For those whom we cover, we only cater to those treated locally but not those referred to outside the country," she said.
Prof Emmanuel Rudakemwa, a cancer survivor and advocate, said that government should establish National Cancer Control Plan to guide priorities, stakeholder and funders.
"We have to also map all types of cancers in the country," he added.
The stakeholders recommended rolling out of breast and cervical cancer screening in all districts, strengthening community check-up at health care level and improve cancer screening at primary health care level, improving diagnostic capabilities, chemotherapy in referral hospitals as well as establishing a comprehensive center of excellence providing radiotherapy, advanced surgery ad systematic therapy.
Dr Christian Ntizimira, the city manager of the City Cancer Challenge initiative said they will soon release results related to the challenges in terms of cancer treatment.