January 25, 2023

Reducing the risks of cancer



IN recent years, there has been increase in cases of cancer worldwide. Hyuna Sung, Rebecca Siegel and Ahmedin Jemal, employed by the American Cancer Society, estimated that worldwide, about 19.3 million new cancer cases and almost 10.0 million cancer deaths occurred in 2020.

In Nigeria, according to the World Health Organisation, WHO, more than 100,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed every year. About 80,000 patients die, approximating 240 deaths daily and 10 deaths per hour. While leaders in other countries are busy building medical facilities, manpower and funding research to provide solutions for their citizens against the cancer scourge, Nigerian leaders prefer to run to those other countries with taxpayers’ money whenever they are diagnosed of the disease.

Unfortunately, running abroad hardly saves the cancer patient, especially those advanced in age. Cancer is still largely a terminal illness and one of the most impoverishing disorders for the patient and family. Cancer depletes life savings, forcing people to borrow or sell their valuables just to raise money for treatment. Everything about cancer is expensive.

Yet, in Nigeria, health insurance hardly covers cancer care, except the patient buys the elite plans which is still without comprehensive cover. While older cancer drugs were harsh, and often killed the patient even before the cancer itself, newer drugs are more tolerable but prohibitively costly. One type of cancer drug may cost as much as N500,000 per monthly dose! A typical cancer patient in Nigeria that requires comprehensive treatment and care will need to invest several millions.

The post-survival management therapy is compulsory, but also very expensive. Most cancer survivors are placed on these special drugs for life, and they may end up dying due to relapses. Cancer patients may also not be able to keep up with the cost of chemotherapy and therefore may be forced to abandon treatment.

Given this huge cost of cancer treatment, we believe it is best to look at the causes and possible ways of prevention. According to experts, most cancers are related to environmental, lifestyle, or behavioural exposures, and over one third of cancer deaths worldwide are potentially avoidable by reducing exposure to known factors.

Smoking or tobacco use accounts for 25–30 per cent of cancer deaths, while environmental pollutants, diet and obesity account for 30–35 per cent. Although some cancer cases have been linked to genetics, experts say the vast majority of cancers are non-hereditary. Healthy diet such as eating fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, and avoiding processed meat, red meat, animal fats, and refined carbohydrates, can prevent cancer. Alcohol consumption has also been linked to liver cirrhosis or cancer of the liver.

The depletion of the ozone layer, which admits cancer-causing ultraviolet, UVB, radiation into our atmosphere, is among the causes of cancer. The bottom line is healthy environment. Early diagnosis, public awareness, adequate health services and training of health care workers are key to dealing with the problem. The comprehensive management of cancer should be adopted and implemented without delay.