By Victoria Ojeme
D r. Celsus Undie, consultant, urological surgeon of Kelina Hospital, in this interview, speaks on Nigerians’ nonchalant attitude towards cancer. Excerpts:
For the benefit of those who do not know what cancer is all about, what is cancer?
It is an abnormal growth of any component of the body. Any tissue of the body out of proportion to the rest of the body surrounding structures and that tissue, abnormally, grows at the expense of normal tissue, grows excessively and without control and it doesn’t stop growing.
How many types of cancer exist?
In the case of types, it depends on where the cancer started. They are classified based on whether they started on the skin, that is the surface of the body or the inner lining of the body, membranes lining, urinary tract, intestine, mouth or cancer arising from glands like saliva, sweat glands and reproductive tract. These cancer are called carcinomas. The second one is called sarcomas. These are cancer that affect the connective tissue like muscles and bones. Then, you have cancer originating in fluid like blood cells. This one is called leukaemia. So, it depends on which part of the body you are talking about.
Should cancer education be inculcated into school curriculum for more awareness?
I will say yes, otherwise I don’t think there is anything special about cancer. It is not more serious than HIV. It is not more serious than malaria, because, right now, malaria kills people all over the world more than cancer. So, if you are talking about general health awareness, yes, people should be taught how to live a healthy and preventive lifestyles, preventive attitudes on health issues.
When do you think there will a definite treatment for cancer?
I don’t think there is anything like definite treatment for cancer. There are some cancer that are actually curable. The problem is when the cancer is not detected on time, and it has gone round the whole body because cancer has the ability to grow in all parts of the body and to change from one part of the body to another. Some cancer invade the blood vessel. Some cancer grow together in the blood cell, and it can jump from one part of the body and go to another part; so, if the cancer cell has gone round the whole body, there is nothing anybody can do any more.
So, it is not that there is no definite treatment. People go to the hospital and do not even think about it and there are some screening test that can detect cancer at a very early stage, but people don’t take advantage of that. So, when the cancer is diagnosed, it has affected the whole body and there is just nothing anybody can do anywhere in the whole world.
What are the causes of cancer?
It is not really so clear what causes cancer. That appears to be where the problem lies. But we know of things that can be disposed to cancer. In other words, if you know that you are to avoid things that will not make you to have cancer, then people will definitely be able to avoid cancer completely. For instance, if you are talking about cancer of the lungs, cancer of the throat, people who smoke are pre-disposed to these cancer; cancer of the tongue and of the mouth in the oral cavity, those who don’t smoke are less pre-disposed. And, then cancer of the skin which is so common in albinos because the sun penetrates directly into their bodies, so, they are more disposed to cancer of the skin. But, as it is, we don’t know about what really causes cancer.
What are the symptoms of cancer?
Yes, that is a practical question, because, if you know what to look out for and you see these symptoms, you can actually go and see a doctor at a very early stage. If you have any growth in your body, even if it is as small as a pimple and it doesn’t get cured on time or it doesn’t resolve so fast, you have to go and see a doctor. Cancer is a growth which continues at the expense of mammal body tissue and has ability to jump from one part of the body to another and it grows excessively and it doesn’t stop.
For instance, if you have a cut on any part of your body and when the skin touches each other, it stops growing, it heals immediately. But in the case of cancer, it will continue to grow until it becomes a lump and it will continue to grow until it becomes a very massive tissue until it blocks the cavity or the tube in the body and the person dies or he or she starts bleeding and the person bleeds to death. So, when you see any growth in any part of your body that is not getting healed naturally or it doesn’t seem to stop growing, you better see a doctor.
The other symptom you look out for, it depends on where the cancer is located. For instance, if somebody has cancer of the lungs, he may be coughing, he maybe thinking it is ordinary cough. He will take medication but, after a week, the cough stops and, after a week again, the cough comes back. Any symptom that you have in the body that is persistent can be cancer. Cancer of the lungs can start with cough; cancer of the throat in the voice box starts with something like sore throat. If you have been having sore throat for a month or two months and it is not going, that could be cancer.
If a woman is having menstrual period that doesn’t just want to stop, which usually stops after a week and the same woman having a period that is lasting more than 10 days, two weeks, it could be cancer of the uterus.
A man is seeing blood in his stool, it has continued for two to three days, it might not be pile but cancer in the intestine or somebody vomiting blood, that could be cancer of the stomach. If a woman notices a lump in her breast, it could be cancer. When you have malaria, you take medicine, it doesn’t go; you take another one, it still does not go, in that case it is good to see a doctor who will look at it and say, is it just malaria we are treating?
What is the difference between lump, bump and tumour?
Tumour actually means a lump. It also means a swelling. A tumour could be an ordinary swelling or it could be cancer. The word bump is not really a medical word. But a lump is a swelling, a lump is the same thing as tumour. Tumour is a swelling and tumour could be cancerous or non-cancerous.
I am a urological surgeon, and we have several types of cancer in the urinary track in the urological system like the cancer of the kidney and cancer of the bladder. But the commonest cancer all over the world now affecting men is prostrate cancer, nearly 10 per cent of men working on the street who are more than 60 years old have prostrate cancer but they don’t know.
We are equipped to handle cancer. We have been treating patients suffering from cancer to the level that we are even going to do free screening. It is going to be free. We are interested in helping people in detecting cancer at a very early stage when they can be treated. Recently, we removed a woman’s breast and another one whose womb was cancerous, we removed the whole womb. So, we don’t have problem of handling cancer as surgeons specialists.
Is there any guideline that governs cancer treatment in Nigeria?
Every doctor is trained to be able to recognise cancer or to be able to suspect that somebody is having cancer. So, in the case of specific guideline for cancer, I think the guideline is about what the doctor should do when he sees a patient and he is suspecting cancer, he should refer the person to a specialist and the specialist knows what to do.