Photograph — Wikimedia Commons

According to the figures released by the WHO over the weekend on this year’s World Cancer Day, it is observed that many cancer cases are diagnosed too late. With over 8.8 million cancer deaths recorded globally yearly, out of which an estimated 80,000 are Nigerians, the World Health Organisation, WHO, has called on specialists to pay special attention to early diagnosis of cancer, because most oncological diseases are curable, if discovered early.

According to WHO statistics, over 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer annually, and about 80,000 die from the disease, averaging 240 Nigerians every day or 10 Nigerians every hour, dying from cancer. The Nigerian cancer death ratio of 4 in 5 is one of the worst in the whole world. The data at hand also shows that cervical cancer which is virtually 100 percent preventable kills one Nigerian woman every hour, breast cancer kills 40 Nigerians daily while prostate cancer kills 26 Nigerian men daily. These three common cancers alone, kill 90 Nigerians daily.

Cancer is responsible for almost 1 in 6 deaths globally. More than 14 million people develop cancer every year, and this figure is projected to rise to over 21 million by 2030.

According to the WHO criteria, cancer is regarded curable if the patient lives for more than five years after the disease has been identified. High mortality rates are usually observed among third and fourth-degree cancer patients.

“Diagnosing cancer in late stages, and the inability to provide treatment, condemns many people to unnecessary suffering and early death. By taking the steps to implement WHO’s new guidance, healthcare planners can improve early diagnosis of cancer and ensure prompt treatment, especially for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers. This will result in more people surviving cancer. It will also be less expensive to treat and cure cancer patients,” said the Director of WHO’s Department for the Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, Dr. Etienne Krug.

According to WHO’s new Guide to cancer early diagnosis, the three steps to early diagnosis are: Improve public awareness of different cancer symptoms and encourage people to seek care when these arise. Invest in strengthening and equipping health services and training health workers so they can conduct accurate and timely diagnostics and ensure people living with cancer can access safe and effective treatment, including pain relief, without incurring prohibitive personal or financial hardship.

Nigerians have a poor attitude towards preventive healthcare, many of them don’t make it a point of duty to know their health status and they practise self-medication when they fall ill. Going for medical check-up is definitely not in the habit of most people and thereby don’t place a high value on their health which affects productivity and performance negatively. Lack of money is the main excuse people give, so they would rather spend money on curative medicine than preventive.

WHO has encouraged Nigeria and other countries to prioritise basic, high-impact and low-cost cancer diagnosis and treatment service. It also recommends reducing the need for people to pay for care out of their own pockets, which prevents many from seeking help in the first place.

Comprehensive cancer control consists of prevention, early diagnosis and screening, treatment, palliative care, and survivorship care, we should all be part of comprehensive national cancer control plans. WHO has produced comprehensive cancer control guidance to help governments develop and implement such plans to protect people from the onset of cancer and to treat those needing care.

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