Breast Cancer is Rising Threat in Nigeria


Article Highlights

A local Malawian woman lost a large portion of her breast to cancer. Breast cancer is on the rise throughout Africa.  

It was a somber moment.

The remains of Mrs. Tito Bayoade, 41, were being laid to rest.

Family, relatives and friends wailed as if crying could bring back the dead. A small, 10-year old boy moaned, “Mummy why are you leaving me?”

Bayoade was one of the hundreds of women who will die of breast cancer in Nigeria this year.

Amid the constant flow of tears, friends and family members found solace in the courage Bayoade showed during her illness, grateful that her pain was over.

“She fought the cancer for three years,” says Bosede Adekale, 38. “The pain was too much. Although losing her is very painful, death was a relief for her,” says Adekale, a long-time friend.

Estimates from the World Health Organization, WHO, suggest that there are an estimated 100,000 people diagnosed with cancer in Nigeria each year. Observers on the ground, however, believe the figure is much higher. One recent estimate suggests that as many as 500,000 new diagnoses will be made here by the end of 2010.  

 Public Health Campaigns to Increase 

Mounting evidence suggests that healthy lifestyle campaigns and government-sponsored public health initiatives could stem the growing tide of cancer here.

Clement Adebamowo of the Division of Oncology, at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, says that while infectious diseases like AIDS are most common  in Nigeria, cancer is fast emerging as a health care priority for Nigeria.

Adebamowo says creating awareness about cancer and improving access to testing and health care facilities will help decrease the steadily rising numbers.  

But Nigeria is ill equipped to deal with the complexities of cancer care. A wobbly health care infrastructure makes clinical services hard to come by and inadequately distributed. Only a few health centers have functioning radiotherapy equipment and the cost of care remains out of reach for most Nigerians who have received a cancer diagnosis.

Nigeria is also home to only a few medical professionals with expertise in cancer treatments. According to a consultative committee on national cancer control, most surgeries here are performed by surgeons whose primary clinical practice is not oncology.

Breast Cancer Among Most Common in Nigeria

According to the WHO, the most common cancers here are breast, cervical and ovarian. Available statistics from area hospitals indicate that of all women in Nigeria who die from health related illnesses, 65 percent are cancer related.

Recent studies by local universities have demonstrated that more than 1,100 women between the ages of 17 and 85 have been diagnosed with breast cancer in Nigeria since 1995. The peak age group is 40-49, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all cases.

Investigations by local and international cancer research bodies have revealed that very few hospitals operate screening programs for cervical and uterine cancer. Nigeria also lacks an established national mammography screening program. Problems of impeded access to health care, ignorance of the disease, poverty, disempowerment of women and a general lack of health education complicate matters as incidences of cancer among women increase.

Despite an increase in research, studies and high-level political discussion about more coordinated public health efforts, early detection remains the largest obstacle Adebamowo encounters. Ignorance and inadequate screening programs, she says, make it difficult to treat many patients who receive the diagnosis.

“I did not know it was cancer, I thought it was a boil until two years ago when I came to the hospital and it was confirmed that I have breast cancer,” says Tade Ajike, one of Adebamowo’s current patients. “I have been fighting it since then but it is like death is moving nearer everyday.”