The World Health Organisation says an estimated 116,000 new cases of cancer and 41,000 cancer-related deaths were recorded in Nigeria in 2018.
The WHO Official In Charge of Nigeria, Clement Peter, disclosed this on Monday while speaking with journalists in Abuja at an event held in commemoration of the World Cancer Day.
Mr Peter blamed the alarming figures on the increased intake of tobacco and alcohol, and the unhealthy lifestyles of people in the country.
The World Cancer Day is an international event held on February 4 to raise awareness of cancer and encourage its prevention, detection and treatment.
The theme for this year is “I am and I will.” Mr Peter who represented WHO Regional Director, Matshidiso Moeti, said the theme was chosen as “a reminder of the important actions that we can – and need – to take as individuals, groups, communities and political leaders, to reduce the impact of cancer on our lives.”
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide as new cases and deaths from the disease keep rising.
Statistics from the WHO showed that in 2012, there were 14 million new cases and 8.2 million deaths, while in 2018 there were 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths.
Mr Peter said if current trends are maintained, the cancer burden in Africa is projected to double from 1,055,172 new cancer cases in 2018 to 2,123,245 by 2040.
He said the key driver to the cancer burden in Africa includes increasing exposure to known cancer risk factors such as tobacco use, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diets, alcohol use and environmental pollution.
He said it is pathetic that more young people are getting hooked to tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking and eating of fatty and junk food irrespective of the health hazard.
“Let us inform the youth that tobacco use is catastrophic, fast food and diet increases body weight and this causes obesity which if not checked can lead to cancer.
“Cancer is one of the non-communicable diseases which is killing many people globally. If the majority of the drivers are addressed, it would not only address cancer but also diabetes, hypertension, chronic heart problems and also reduce the cost of treatment of most of these diseases which are on the high side,” he said.
Mr Peter said the high poverty rate, late and poor cancer diagnosis and lack of medical cover are among factors posing a serious challenge to cancer patients in most African countries.
Other factors responsible for the heavy cancer burden in Africa are the absence of widely available information on the early signs and symptoms of cancer, late diagnosis, misdiagnosis, the absence of/weak referral systems, difficult access to care and treatment, catastrophic costs of treatment and medicines, and weak health care systems.
“Additional contributing factors in the rise of the cancer burden in Africa are the epidemiologic and demographic changes that are currently taking place. In short, the cancer burden is increasing as Africans are now living longer, in large part because of improvements in the control of the infectious causes of mortality and morbidity,” he said.
“Though significant progress has been made in diagnostics and treatment of cancers in high-income countries, sadly, most cancer patients in Africa are diagnosed at a late stage and the prognosis for a positive outcome is lessened, even in cases where treatment is available and affordable.
“Only 26 per cent of low-income countries around the world reported having public sector pathology services, and only 30 per cent of these countries had cancer treatment services. However, 90 per cent of high-income countries can offer such services.”
Mr Peter urged stakeholders, specifically African governments at the local, state, provincial, national and supranational levels, to create an environment for reducing cancer risk factors such as alcohol and tobacco use, and the citizens maintain good levels of physical activity, healthy body weight, and good nutrition.
He said cancer diagnosis should not represent a death sentence in Africa, nor should it lead to catastrophic expenditure through out-of-pocket payments for diagnosis, treatment and palliative care.
“Thousands of lives can be saved in Africa with proper cancer prevention, early detection, access to proper treatment and care, he said.
In a related development, a report by Philips Consulting (PCI), which reviewed ‘the socio-economic impact of cancer in Nigeria’, noted that the financial implication of cancer treatment on patients in Nigeria is very high.
The organisation said this has been having a grave and negative impact on the lives of patients, families and friends.
Some of the findings, which were released in a press statement signed by a media consultant for PCL, Chiadika Okereke, showed that the cost of cancer treatment in Nigeria ranges between N850, 000 and N3, 600,000.
Unfortunately, many of the victims have to spend out of pocket money in the treatment of cancer because the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) covers less than four per cent of the Nigerian population.
Those covered by the scheme also have to pay because most of the treatments for cancer are not covered by NHIS.
“The number of people resorting to public intervention has constantly increased over the years; this is intuitive evidence of the great socio-economic burden faced by cancer patients and their caregivers”, Mr Okereke said.
The research also noted that every year, cancer patients spend a huge amount on medical treatment abroad.