90% cancers preventable with improved nutrition, health lifestyle

By: Chioma Umeha

•Govt told to make disease eradication priority – NIMR 

Experts have said that 35 per cent of all cancers are linked to nutrition issues, and when added to that of lifestyle, they account for 85 per cent of all cancer cases. They therefore stated that 90 per cent of cancers are preventable, with improved healthy lifestyle and right diet even as they advised the public to eat balanced calorie in accordance to energy demand, as well as exercise regularly. The experts who spoke during a symposium organised by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) to mark the World Cancer Day recently, advocated for the inclusion of cancer in the government’s priority list with a view to tackling the recent epidemic of the disease in the country. 

L-R: Prof. Innocent Ujah, Director General (DG) of Nigerian Institute of Medical Research
(NIMR) Yaba, Lagos; Prof Rosaline Anorlu, South West Cancer Coordinator;
Dr Jerry Iwuora, Consultant Physician with interest in Hipathology, NIMR;
Dr. Nkiruka Odunukwe, Head, NIMR NCD Research Group and
Dr. Agatha David, Consultant Paediatrician and Chief Research Fellow, NIMR,
at a symposium organized recently, by NIMR to mark the World Cancer Day
at the institute’s main auditorium.

According to statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) over 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer annually, while 80,000 die every year. It is estimated that over 10 Nigerians die of cancer every hour. The researchers further lamented that despite the theme of this year’s global cancer celebration, ‘Not beyond Us’; Nigeria has not done enough to defeat cancer. The South West Cancer Coordinator, Prof Rosaline Anorlu said: “Many cancer patients are dying in misery and agony.   “The new thing about cancer is that there is an epidemic of cancer. The incidence we are having now is not like what we had 20 years. More and more people are getting cancers now, and the awareness is still low. But awareness of cancer in cities is much better than what it was 20 years ago. Government is trying but I advise that government should put cancer quite high on the priority list of things. Let us have more centres to treat cancer. She said: “You can always do something about cancer but unfortunately we don’t have many of these facilities, we do not even have palliative care centres for those that come with late disease. We don’t even have hospitals for those people who are almost dying to just go and comfortably die in dignity and not in agony.” 

“The government should have political will and commitment for cancer. This is so in some countries where there is political will and government commitment towards the control of cervical cancer, they have free screening for women and they have also made the vaccine available and almost free for children. So to control cancer in Nigeria, there should be political commitment.” she stressed. Anorlu regretted that Nigerians still depend on out of pockets for their health needs and no government or any organisation is helping the patients in the payment of their drugs and their medical care.   “Cancer is not beyond us but we still have a long way to go in terms of prevention and treatment. She also said: “When it comes to treatment of cancer we are talking about surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy but you find out that all these are not available in many places and where they are available the patients cannot afford it. “Radiotherapy for example which is used to treat cancers is only available in very few centres and at any particular time you have only about three centres that their machines are working and when it comes to Chemotherapy, it is very expensive. 

A lot of patients cannot afford it,” she added. Director General (DG) of NIMR, Prof. Innocent Ujah, in his opening address said no one should be in doubt of the problem at hand, adding that cancer was fast assuming status of an epidemic and require more attention than it is getting. Ujah noted that cancer is a public health problem that affects all categories of persons. At least, everyone knows someone that either has cancer or had died of the disease. Currently, cancer is the second commonest cause of deaths in developed countries and among the three leading causes of deaths in developing countries. According to him, about 12.4 per cent of all death are attributable to cancer and if the trend continues, it is estimated that by 2020, 16 million new cases will be diagnosed per annum, out of which 70 per cent will be developing countries. “The burden of cancer in Nigeria, as in other African countries remains largely unknown because of lack of statistics and under reporting. Large proportions of the population do not seek orthodox medical care and so are never recorded and reported. 

Those who do seek medical care presently in late stages when an unfavourable outcome is almost a foregone conclusion, give rise to the high cases fatality rate associated with cancers in Nigeria,” he said. Ujah reminded the authorities that the global action plan for cancer control by the WHO had called for national, international and multi-sectoral action across multiple areas to reduce cancer risks in populations, and to strengthen healthcare delivery system for people with cancer. “Nigeria cannot afford to be different,” he said. On his part, the DG informed that NIMR had keyed into this global action plan by establishing the Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Research Group, which is mandated to conduct research and develop institutional capacity in the area of common cancers in Nigeria. To this end, the institute has also just completed the construction of a modern, state-of-the-art Cancer Research Centre (CRC) for comprehensive cancer research and care including high tech diagnostic facilities, Ujah said. The centre will be commissioned soon. 

Collaborating with Dr. Jerry Iwuoha, Consultant Physician with interest in Hypathology who had said nine out of 10 cancers are preventable, Dr. Brai Bartholomew of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-araba observed that 35 per cent of all cancers are linked to nutrition issues, and when added to that of lifestyle, they account for 85 per cent of all cancer cases. He said it shows that cancers are preventable, with improved healthy lifestyle and right diet. Bartholomew advised the public to eat balanced calorie in accordance to energy demand, as well as exercise regularly. While the advice could help in preventing some cancer, there are others that are genetically-related. Head of the Clinical Trial Group, NIMR, Dr. Agatha David, observed that some childhood cancer have known causes, and between five to 15 per cent are genetic in nature. David said causes of many childhood cancers, however, remain unknown because of unavailable modern diagnostic, treatment facility and skill capacity in the country. 

On her part, Head, NIMR NCD Research Group, Dr. Nkiruka Odunukwe noted that the institute is expanding its activities on cancer from public enlightenment to prevention, clinical management and research on common cancers in Nigeria. “As part of activities to mark this year’s WCD, we are carrying out a weeklong free breast and cervical cancer – screening. Today’s Scientific Symposium is part of activities to educate the general public as well as update the knowledge of medical professionals on timely diagnosis, better management and quality research work to reduce cancer burden,” she added.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on March 12,  2015.


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