Temie Giwa: Nigeria – The rampaging cancer scourge and how we can fight it (Y! FrontPage)


There are some viral infections such as HBV/HCV and HPV that are responsible for up to 20% of cancer deaths in low- and middle-income countries. Cancer is here to stay; it is growing and plans to take million more lives with it.

They call it the emperor of all diseases. It comes silently, quickly morphs a normal cell into an invading army of doom, moves freely in the body, causing mayhem along the way, attacking normal glands and metastasising until all that can be done is to hack away the organ it is attached to. It wants to live, and fights for this goal with ferociousness. The unlucky human whose earlier healthy cell has morphed into a cancerous army must be more determined to live than the cancer itself. The only known cure for cancer does so much damage to healthy cells that often patients choose death over cure. Cancer is emperor of all disease and Nigerians are not immune. The recent death of the Deputy Governor of Ekiti shows that cancer does not respect socio-economic status or educational level. Cancer happens to all and it is high time we begin talking about how to protect ourselves.

The cancer rate in the world is set to increase remarkably in the next decade. The rate of death for the disease increases too. In 2008, 12.7 million cases were diagnosed all over the world, with 7.6million deaths occurring, 70% of this in low-middle income countries, of which Nigeria is a member. However, this number is set to increase to 13.1 million deaths in another 17 years. Cancer of the lung, breast and cervix are more prevalent in humans and these types of cancer are linked to certain behaviours by the host. Lung cancer is heavily influenced by the use of tobacco, which denotes a high risk factor, causing 22% of the 7.6 million deaths in 2008 and 71% of global lung cancer deaths. “High body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use”, influence the onset of other cancers remarkably. There are some viral infections such as HBV/HCV and HPV that are responsible for up to 20% of cancer deaths in low- and middle-income countries. Cancer is here to stay; it is growing and plans to take million more lives with it.

How does Nigeria fare? Statistics vary depending on the source with no easy answers given the deplorable state of Nigeria’s health system. There are between 100,000 – 500,000 cases of cancer diagnosed each year in Nigeria. Thousands of lives possibly cut short by this disease, with only 1 person surviving a diagnosis in 5 people who are diagnosed.  Women are most affected by cancer in Nigeria, with 60% of cancers diagnosed in women to the 39.8% diagnosis for men. Breast cancer is especially virulent in the Nigerian case, with incidence rising about four times over the last couple of years and with 40% of all cancer in women being breast cancer. A vanguard report states the 100 of 100,000 men in Nigeria are diagnosed with prostate cancer, so there is a danger to men. The survival rate is dire and the care available to the majority of people is inefficient, ineffective most of the time, and unaffordable. Only 12 radiology machines are available in Nigeria, and only half of them actually work at any given point.

So what can you do to save yourself? How can we fight back?

The World Health Organisation reports that cancer can be reduced and controlled by “implementing evidence-based strategies for cancer prevention, early detection of cancer and management of patients with cancer”. In the case of a middle-income country like Nigeria, with the world’s most useless health system, with very little investment in the health sector, early detection is the bullet that can save lives. Regular routine checks on the breast, both self-directed; checking for lumps the breast once a month, and followed by physician directed test is indispensable. Regular physician directed checks on the prostate and the cervix is also important. Health seeking behaviour once a lump is found in any organ, refraining from self diagnosis and self treatment, and seeking the expert opinion of those who are trained is the path to good health. Behavioural and lifestyle changes are also important. Saying no to tobacco usage, exercise, healthy diet and staying away from known carcinogens can all help in keeping you healthy.

It is important that we pay attention to this silent killer. It is not famous, it does not get non-government organisation grants, but it is a major danger worth talking about.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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