By Paul Adunwoke
As the awareness month for breast cancer draws to an end, the need to continue educating people about the ailment and how to ‘close the care gap’ in line with the theme for the year 2022, cannot be over stated.
To this end, health experts have advised that eating healthy, engaging in physical exercise, reducing alcohol consumption and stoppage of smoking are some of the lifestyles that could help with control and prevention of the disease in populations. They also identified receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV), vaccine and being screened early when there is family history, among other measures to prevent breast cancer among women.
The experts noted that education about breast cancer plays a vital role in helping people to know the risk factors, especially people in rural communities.
Programme Coordinator, Foundation for Cancer Care, Tolulope Adeyoola-Oladipupo, said the theme ‘close the care gap’ actually means that everyone, regardless of race, tribe, socioeconomic status, where they live, sexual orientation, or religion should have access to quality breast cancer care.
“This includes having access to information about cancer, preventive and screening services treatment, emotional, social and financial support for cancer survivors,” she said.
Adeyoola-Oladipupo stated that a lot is being done already by government, but civil society groups, non-profit organisations and the private sector need to do more by increasing awareness across communities through awareness programmes and reaching the younger generations early in the secondary schools.
She said with this, regardless of where one lives or age, one can gain information on cancer prevention and screening and know what to do in the event of a diagnosis of cancer cases.
Adeyoola-Oladipupo explained that one of the major causes of deaths in breast cancer is late detection and this is because of a lack of awareness about risk factors in cancer prevention, screening and symptoms.
“When people are informed, they also make decisions. When breast cancer is detected early, many people would survive.”
She disclosed that there are risk factors that predispose people to breast cancer, which include being female, old age, family history, genetics, smoking, alcohol consumption, and multiple sexual partners, among others.
“Some of these risk factors are not modifiable. For instance, gender, old age, family history. But some can be modified through healthy lifestyle,” she said.
She disclosed that there is a recent approval of the National Cancer Health Fund by the government to help cancer patients have access to funding but this is yet to be disbursed. “We hope that the government will do well in ensuring cancer patients gain access to the funding they desperately need in order to continue to support the efforts of cancer organisations who are working to reduce cancer cases and help improve access to cancer care.”
“I will advice everyone to seek information and be proactive about their health. Find out screening guidelines and start screening at the appropriate age for cancer. Early detection is a lifesaver when it comes to breast cancer so we should all be responsible. Also let us continue to spread information about cancer prevention until we are all informed like in malaria,” he added.
Head of Strategy Development and Outreach, Lakeshore Cancer Centre, Lekki, Lagos, Dr. Oge Ilegbune noted that a lot of women come down with breast cancer while they are not aware they have it until it becomes worse and cannot be treated, thereby leading to untimely deaths.
She explained that women are expected to go for cancer screening at least once in a year, as this would help to detecte the ailment early and treat it in order to safe lives.
She advised women to engage in self examination and report abnormalities to the nearest healthcare centre for treatment because those may be early signs and symptoms of cancer.
Paediatrician/Oncologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Lagos, Dr. Adekunle Motunrayo, observed that the burden of childhood cancer is on the increase globally.
Annually, 400,000 children and adolescents between 0 to 19 years are diagnosed with childhood cancer and 80 per cent of these diagnoses occur in low-income and middle-income countries such as Nigeria.
She noted that children with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), infection are prone to some kind of cancer. Certain types of cancer are commoner in malaria endemic regions such as Nigeria and exposure to irradiation mostly from treatment of childhood cancer can predispose to another type of cancer.
Motunrayo stated that there are conflicting reports from research on the risk of cancers from exposure to irradiation such as transmission mast and mobile phones.
She explained that bone marrow-related cancers present with recurrent fever, recurrent blood transfusion, bleeding, easy bruising and weight loss. Unexplained swelling in any part of the body including the abdomen can be cancer related.
She said childhood cancer presents with loss of red eye reflex, cataract, sudden squint or orbital swelling can be due to a cancer called retinoblastoma. A child with brain tumour can present with persistent headaches, vomiting, abnormal gait, squint, loss of vision, convulsion, memory loss, slurred speech and loss of consciousness.
Motunrayo stated that mothers should avoid exposure to ionizing irradiation during pregnancies.
She said most childhood cancers are not related to lifestyles and have no identifiable causes, which makes early diagnosis to be very crucial. “The cure rate of childhood cancer in high-income countries is over 90 per cent but sadly less than 30 per cent in Africa including Nigeria. One major factor for low survival rate in Africa is late presentation.”
She said: “I will advise all Nigerians that childhood cancers is on the increase. It has myths and misconceptions such as attack from evil spirits. Let us all be advocates and every one should contribute his/her quota to improving care of children with cancer in Nigeria.”