Prevalence of breast cancer in Nigeria is giving experts concerns. One in every four women is daily coming down with this terminal disease. In this piece, JOYCE REMI- BABAYEJU examines the causes and what majority of women are not doing right regarding this deadly disease.
Mrs. Angela Akpan, a 35 year old mother of three lovely children died because she was diagnosed late of breast cancer infection. According to her husband, Mr. John Akpan, who spoke to Nigerian Pilot, neither him nor his late wife knew that she could ever be afflicted by such a terminal disease. Today Mr. John Akpan is a widower and his three children motherless.
Before Mrs. John died, she was a budding career woman, wife and active worker in the church. For almost three years, Angela had been visiting different doctors and undergoing various tests to know what the cause of her illness was, Mr. John said.
In the cause of looking for solution for her ailment, Angela and her husband John also visited various healing and prayer homes for treatment and counselling, but all to no avail. When Angela was diagnosed of breast cancer, she intensified treatment but it was too late. Unfortunately, she died a month ago while undergoing chemotherapy treatment at the National Hospital, Abuja.
Another woman, Mrs. Judith Okeke who spoke with our correspondent on her admission bed while undergoing chemotherapy treatment at the National Hospital lamented that the cost of treating breast cancer is too much. How did Mrs. Okoke get to know that she is suffering from breast cancer?
She said, ‘’I didn’t know because it was not painful but by chance my hand touched my armpit, I felt a lump and I rushed to the hospital. Before now, I have spent so much money trying the cause of my illness.’’
The dilemma women with breast cancer patients are facing in the country is that there are not enough machine to go round for treatment of the hundreds of patients across the country. Okeke who said that that was the third treatment she was getting lamented that most of the machine in Nigeria are not good. ‘’They are not working’’, she said.
‘’The machine in Ibadan and Lagos are not good so people are too much here at the National Hospital, Abuja. Whenever the machine is overworked, it breaks down and people would go back home after spending so much money. But rumours have it that the machine in Ibadan is under repairs but we are not too sure’’, she said.
People are suffering. In this hospital there should be about three machines. People waiting for their turn sometimes sleep on the ground, waste money without getting treatment and go back home frustrated. These women are among the hundreds of women suffering breast cancer and related diseases. Infact, statistics shows that more women are presenting with breast cancers due to change in lifestyle and eating habits.
Hundreds and thousands of women in Nigeria are daily being diagnosed of breast cancer and statistics is showing that the growing number of women with the ailment is quite alarming, doctors reveal.
An expert in radiography and oncology at the Department of Radiography and Oncology at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Professor Aderemi Tajudeen Ajekigbe, recently disclosed that two million cases of cancers are recorded in Nigeria yearly with 100,000 new cases recorded annually.
Despite the prevalence of breast cancer with statistics showing that one out of four women are developing breast cancer, the International Cancer Centre along Airport Road in Abuja is yet to take –off. And for the reason of inadequate radiotherapy treatment machines and lack of operation of the cancer centre, most patients tend to go outside the country for treatment. This further intensifies the reason for medical tourism by Nigerians.
Dr. Rasaq Olusegun, chief consultant radiotherapist and oncologist, National Hospital in an exclusive interview with Nigerian Pilot in his office at the hospital confirmed that there is increase in the incidence of breast cancer now in Nigeria for various reasons such as change in lifestyle and traditional values.
He said secondly, there is an increase in the number of young patients having breast cancer. ‘’The reason for that we are still studying. It could be change in eating attitude, change in environment and other thing. We cannot say specifically the cause but we do know that over a long period of time, our diets have changed drastically.”
These days, women have to do a lot of things to be protective of breast cancer. ‘’Things like early marriage; breast feeding must be revisited because we are losing all these things now. People are marrying much later in life. If you get married at age 18 or 19 and start to have children like four, five, six children your chances of breast cancer is reduced. These days this is no more available because people are getting married in their 30s, 40s and because of the pressure of work they hardly breastfeed for substantial length of time’’, the cancer expert lamented.
According to Dr Olusegun other risk factors to breast cancer is heredity, which means that it also runs in the family but people don’t take cognisance of it. If a mother has breast cancer the children also must be at alert by checking themselves regularly because of likelihood of getting it later in life.
And what is WHO standard for provision of a radiography machine to patients? “We don’t have enough but by WHO standard, we should have about 400 radiography machine scattered all over the country but right now, there are only six radiotherapy machines in the country and only two are working , one in Sokoto and the other here in Abuja”, Olusegun explained.
‘’Right now, it is grossly inadequate. If we have six machines in one single centre it is not too much, if you go to other African countries there some centres where they have about six machines.’’
According to the onocologist, Nigeria is operating far below the WHO standard. He said, ‘’No we don’t have enough radiotherapy machines, what we have are like we don’t have. The minimum that we need in the country is about 40-50 machines all round the country. We have just about six in the country and out of this six only two are working in Sokoto State and remaining four are in Lagos, Ibadan, Benin and Enugu States.’’
He said that each of the cancer treatment centres should have about 3-4 machines whereby if one is faulty the rest will be working and there won’t be disruption of treatment.
The challenge hospitals face now is most machines have packed up so when the single one in use has problem, all the patients have to go elsewhere. And also the late presentation of patients because a lot of them come to the hospital one to two months to death constitutes major problems.
Doctors say that another problem breast cancer patients encounter is that not many of them can shoulder the cost and again that most people go to different types of doctors who are not oncologists thereby complicating their illnesses.
The cost is treating breast cancer is not cheap because the cost of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy could be as high as N250, 000, radiotherapy is about N100, 000- N150, 000, experts say. There is type of breast cancer that you can treat with chemotherapy and there a type that can be treated with N5-N6 million and it is no respecter of persons. It could afflict a market woman who is the breadwinner, the doctor told this Correspondent.
In this regard, government should act fast to save the teeming number of women, mothers and young girls daily coming down with this lethal disease. And also government could go a step further by increasing the number of cancer treatment machines to WHO recommendation and also offer financial subsidy to indigent patients.