Cancer of the breast is widely believed to be one of the most deadly diseases facing women in recent time, with tentacles spread above status and class in many societies across the globe. The dreaded disease has reportedly killed more Nigerian women in what experts traced its origin to a malignant (cancer) tumour that emanates from cells of the breast. Faced by the population of breast cancer patients in various hospitals across Nigeria, and why experts are unanimous in their calls for government to be more proactive in the fight against the scourge, Peoples Daily Ochiaka Ugwu, conducted a fact finding investigation across the capital city of Abuja, on how to arrest the scourge head-on.
Ironically, experts once noted that about 42million Nigerians will have cancer in 2020 with breast cancer taking the lead, no thanks to the growing death rate among different class of Nigerian women suffering from cancer related diseases. In fact, record had it that the death rate among women has been on the increase yearly, though its prevalence among men has also been cited but with less cognizance or under reported, unlike such cases as in female gender.
Traditionally, the existence of Breast cancer dates back to early seventies, with highest rates in women under forty years old, though the ordeal of Breast Cancer varies across the globe; it is said to be low in less-developed countries and high in advanced countries, while its effect on womanhood is globally adjudged a threat to mankind.
In a space of 30 years from 1990, expert says Nigeria is going to move from 24 to 42 million breast cancer patients because the population is young. Prof. Clement Adebamowo, the Director, Society of Oncology and Cancer Research of Nigeria, SOCRON said, “women of ages 25-64 are mostly at risk of cancer of the breast and cervical cancers. He further explained that young ladies between 15 and those at child bearing age are more at risk in the developing countries, whereas in the developed countries like United States and France, older women above the child bearing age are more at risk” he noted.
In developed nations, breast cancer is said to be the second leading cause of cancer death among women, after lung cancer and the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer, sometime during her life has been less than one in eight.
But, while breast cancer related death rate is on decrease in advanced societies, the case however is not the same in the sub-Saharan Africa, where Nigeria takes the lead due to her growing population, coupled with high rate of poverty level among the people.
Reacting to questions on the outbreak of breast cancer among Nigerians, and how the disease could be tackled, Dr. Adegoke Adeniyi, an Abuja based medical practitioner, who is a general practitioner in the field, spoke to Peoples Daily. He described breast cancer as deadly ailment which either emanated from family history and exposure to estrogen containing hormones.
His words: “It is possible for breast cancer to attack someone that has it in the family.”
“Also, exposures to hormones, especially estrogen containing hormones are possibilities of victims having breast cancer. So, these are the major causes. There are also some food that contains some of these hormones, if they are present in the food, such individuals are likely and possibly be disposed to it. I know of some foods that doctors normally tell menopause women not to take because they contain estrogen” he said.
On how common is the disease in Nigeria, and the age grade that suffers most from breast cancer, Adegoke narrated his Sokoto experience as follows: “In practice, I have seen quite some numbers of victims, most especially those at early stage of their lives. I have seen what looks like an Ulcer, the smelling of the breast also called ‘fun-dating’. Though, the people at the time attributed it to spiritual attacks based on cultural belief.”
“But once a woman becomes sexually active, the propensity increases and usually when you enter into puberty, the breast develops, so also the risk develops. Between the productive period, breast cancer is common in Nigeria, and it is also more common towards the end of productive age.”
“Being factual, Breast cancer is rampant among age 40 and 45, and reason is the inability to detect or people don’t just present it to the hospital at early stage. Some keep it at home till it takes their lives and people ignorantly attributed the disease to spiritual attack.
“Good enough, the awareness campaign and early presentation of cases at the hospitals have continued to expose the disease, though the propensity has also been on the increase.” Adegoke expatiated.
On how deadly Breast cancer could be and how to avoid it, Dr. Adegoke continues:
“When you talk of cancer or malignancy, it does not stay alone at the initial site of origin, it spreads all over the body, it can easily spread to the bone and that is what makes it scary.”
“There was a woman just few years ago, she did not report to the hospital on time, her breast was chopped off; that was after she was having difficulty with breathing. We placed her on oxygen before we realised, the cancer had spread to the whole lung, the air passage for her to breathe. Unfortunately, the woman did not last for twenty four hours before she died. When cancer is not treated early, the prognosis becomes poor and bad, except a miracle saves the victim.” He reiterated.
On preventing the ailment which the physician said is better than cure, he said, “The general way of prevention is health education and health promotion. People should be aware; awareness should be intensified by authorities. Let the health sector take full charge of its responsibility, even not only for breast cancer victims, especially those that come for anti-natal. There is need to educate them on breast cancer, including jingles through the media.”
“On individual basis, there should be self-examination, which is a common thing and if detected early, it can still be well taken care of. So, periodic breast examination is important for women. Also, women should watch the kind of food they take. There are some foods that contain hormones, though we may not be able to dwell deeply on that, but there is the need to watch out for those junk foods and the kind of drug intakes, especially those women that take contraceptives which contain the hormone we have been talking about.
“Some use it, abuse it. For example, a woman with family history of breast cancer stand the risk of falling victim to breast cancer if she takes certain contraceptives without consultation with medical practitioners on the kind of contraceptive that best suited her condition. So, all these can prevent incidents of breast cancer”.
On treatment, the Medical practitioner affirmed availability of modern equipment that could take care of the disease in the country:
“Though generally, it has become a challenge for the poor to access quality health care in Nigeria, which is why I keep emphasizing on the prevention. If the treatment is expensive, early detection can be accessible.”
“Surgically, it can be removed while the patient is placed on chemotherapy. There is also what we call mammogram. It is a kind of radiological investigation of breast, if every woman does it, may be once or twice in a year, it can detect any cancer that is just coming up.
“It involves surgical intervention, chemotherapy and sometimes radiotherapy. I believe all these are available in our tertiary institutions.
Government should equip the primary health centres; increase the campaigns on health education about breast cancer. Though government has been trying, but they should do more, most especially at the grass roots. Adegoke submitted.
Corroborating Dr. Adegoke’s position on the causes and prevention, an Abuja based Pharmacist, Vincent Ezeliora, maintained that breast cancer is hereditary. He noted that the disease runs through family and generations as one of the main cardinal causes of breast cancer. The pharmacists equally attributed individual lifestyle as one factor that determines likely cancer patients in terms of food in-takes by some women; he attributed such to carcinogen substance which he said are not too healthy for body system.
“The environmental problems has not been helpful, such as proliferation of the sun, ozone layer depletion are all not been helpful to cancer. But specifically for breast cancer, it’s majorly hereditary which has been in existence for a long time. But in those days, people linked it to witchcraft and accused neighbourhood enemies of being behind it. But due to advent of technologies, we have been able to narrow it down to cancer”.
Whether there is safe and effective drug as of today to quell the breast cancer menace, Vincent was quick to add that early detection of the disease is the best, saying that breast cancer treatment is a process if it is carcinogenic. He advised people not to wait or depend on government alone for aid.
“I am not one of those who blame government on all things, there are things that every woman should do. When a woman starts to menstruate, she is expected to carry out self-examination on monthly basis; government cannot do that for you. The truth of the matter is that all hands should be on deck, from government, schools, Churches, including Mosques. This is to pass the message around.
“Sensitization exercise to make people know and understand way of its preventions. During my internship, I saw a woman that her breast was chopped off, it was not a pleasant sight to me.” He narrated.
Vincent however warned breast cancer victims of danger of psychological trauma thus:
“The society is not helping the matter either. The way the society perceives it, that it is not acceptable for a woman not to have breasts; the trauma of living without breasts kills victims faster just like HIV/AIDS where similar psychological breakdown normally occur.”
“For someone who can still live for seventy-eighty or more, you find out that they die at age of forty as a result of stigmatization.” Vincent admonished.
At DAVIC International Pharmacy, Karu – Abuja, Pharmacist Chinenyen Adeyemo, though shared Adegoke’s view, but traced some of the causes of breast cancer to abortion, Chinenye warned women to desist from indiscriminate use of drugs, most especially the arbitrary use of hormonal drugs.
“Many people still engage in unprotected sex. When you are pregnant, there are hormones that the body releases, so when you destroy the natural cause, other things follow.”
“We are pharmacists; we receive many people coming for drugs such as Postnol. We see young girls and adult every day and this emergency contraception commits greater damage in the body.” Moreover, stress also triggers cancer in human body. People should limit their level of struggle and relax. Nigerian government should launch serious awareness campaign to educate women on the prevailing killer disease called breast cancer.” She echoed.
On drugs and food supplement, Adeyemo emphasized further; “One thing with cancer is that the therapy itself is even worse than the cancer, even some of the drugs, while taking it makes you feel like you should commit suicide, even such drugs used in Chemo treatment can kill.”
“This is not to discourage people from taking them, but what the drugs do is that it kills both the normal and the malignant cell. That is why in therapy, there are parameters they have to check across the system, if they are in order, there is no point initiating therapy.”
“There are also claims as regards herbs, but when you study further, you realise that such medicines are not to be used while taking orthodox ones, that might affect the success of the therapy”
“Also, in order to bring down the rate of cancer growth in the system, women should moderate on the level of fatty food intake. That is sugar and blood tonic that has folic acid, anti-ox dance food such as carrots are good enough. Though, it all depends on the type of cancer. Those that are invasive ones are those that kills, they grow so rapidly.” She explained.
For Mrs. Sephia Adah, a house wife, she believes breast cancer has dealt a big blow on happy homes and womanhood over the years. She said more women had suffered rejection in the hands of their husband due to breast cancer infiltrations.
“Marriages and homes have been broken; more women suffer negligence in the hands of their spouses. Some claim that the women they married are no longer complete when their breasts are chopped off. It also prevents potential young ladies , who are ripe for marriage not getting suitors, most particularly in the African setting, where medical issues are reduced to superstition and beliefs. So, all these are greater challenges to womanhood and should be tackled headlong.”
“Beyond the various sensitization programs of the government, the need to build a state- of- the- art specialists’ hospital has become inevitable, where equipment such as mammography technology could be at the reach of both the rich and poor.
“Moreover, women should take to medical advice, such as washing their breast before or after breastfeeding” she warned.
Further research into a study presented recently at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in the United States, corroborated Pharm. Chinenyen on the side effect of most of the Breast Cancer’s drugs. The report shows that even Chemotherapy (often called “chemo”) also damages some normal cells, which can lead to side effects.
As deadly as breast cancer has become, its existence when not tackled at early stage will no doubt put money and wealth to shame.
It would be recalled that, the former NAFDAC Director-General, Mrs. Dora Akunyili lost a battle with a deadly cancer, while it was also rumoured that the erstwhile Nigerian First lady, Mariam Babangida, died of undisclosed cancer related disease.
It has become imperative however, for Nigerians to join hands with government in intensifying campaign effort on breast cancer preventions, rather than the cure, most especially the Nigerian women on early detection of breast cancer that kills at random.