According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide and accounted for 7.6 million deaths in 2008. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the arm of the WHO that deals with cancer, thinks that 100,000 new cases of cancer occurred in Nigeria in 2008 and the number is increasing every year. A recent report showed that if current population trends continue, the number of people with cancer worldwide will go up to 22.2 million by 2030, up from 12.7 million in 2008, which is about a 75 per cent increase.
In a study carried out by the Nigerian National System of Cancer Registry, it was discovered that there has been “a 100 per cent increase in breast cancer incidence in Nigeria over the last decade” with ‘prostate, colorectal cancer (large intestine), lymphomas (lymph nodes), liver and skin as the five most common cancers affecting Nigerian men while breast, cervix, ovary, lymphomas and skin cancers are most common in women.’
Professor Clement Adebamowo, President of the Society of Oncology and Cancer Research of Nigeria (SOCRON) and Director of Research and Strategic information at Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN), reiterates that “the commonest cancers in Nigerian women – Breast and Cervix constitute 60 per cent of all cancers affecting Nigerian women.”
Cancer, which is the uncontrolled growth and spread of cells, is a disease that can ravage any part of the body. However, in spite of the pervasiveness of this disease, certain myths still surround cancer.
Myth: Only women get breast cancer
For most people, when breast cancer is mentioned, it is deemed a women’s health issue. But did you know that men can also have breast cancer? According to Professor Adebamowo, breast cancer does occur in men, although it is at ratio 1 to 100 of female breast cancers. He adds that it is commoner in hypogonadic men.
Recent studies have shown that male breast cancer, though rare, is usually more deadly. Professor Adebamowo attributes this to the fact that usually male breast cancers are advanced at presentation because of lack of supporting tissue.
The American Cancer Society estimates 1 in 1,000 men will get breast cancer, versus 1 in 8 women. However, they suggest that men should be aware of the symptoms which include a lump under or near a nipple, nipple discharge and breasts that are misshapen or don’t match, and they should have it checked out by their doctor as quickly as possible.
Myth: Once you have cancer you will die
Cancer is not a death sentence. Although cancer is one of the leading cause of deaths in the world, it can be treated. The secret is in early detection. There are increasing reports of survival cases, especially when there is early detection and treatment, so all hope is not lost once one has cancer. A significant proportion of cancers can be treated by surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, especially if they are detected early.
Myth: It is better to remain unaware that you have cancer
Cancer is one disease that doesn’t support the saying that ‘ignorance is bliss.’ In fact, with cancer, ignorance could be the deciding factor in whether one can get treated and live a normal life or start a countdown to the end of life. Experts have reiterated the importance of early detection. Thus, once you notice any anomaly in your body, it is crucial you consult with a doctor. Although not all symptoms of illness in the body indicates cancer, no symptom should be ignored or overlooked, especially if it has lasted a long time or is getting worse. That singular step can be life-saving.
Myth: There is nothing you can do to prevent cancer
The WHO reports that at least one-third of all cancer cases are preventable and prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer. Although advances are on-going on cancer treatment and a cure is yet to be in sight, medical experts have suggested that lifestyle changes are important in reducing the chances of having the disease.
According to Dr. Adenike Adeniji-Sofoluwe, a consultant radiologist with the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State, “the exact cause of cancer is not known, but there are certain risk factors such as obesity, alcohol consumption, consuming excess of processed food, height, genetics, exposure to radiation, among others, that increase the likelihood of having it.”
The Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN) advises that to reduce the risk, certain lifestyle changes should be adopted. They include: getting active by aiming for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day; eating balanced diet that is high in fruit, vegetables and whole grains and low in fat and sugar; limiting alcohol intake and avoiding smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke.