A medical doctor and public health expert, Chioma Nwakanma has clarified that not only women are affected by breast cancer but men too.
The medical practitioner, who said though breast cancer is only common among women, noted that “some men with breast tissue can be affected.”
She, therefore, advised that men and women should pay attention to abnormalities around the breast for possible early detection of cancer.
Ms Nwakanma spoke on Wednesday alongside other experts while appearing on a Twitter Space organised by PREMIUM TIMES as part of activities marking the 2023 edition of World Cancer Day.
The space was organised in collaboration with Project Pink Blue, a leading Nigerian cancer advocacy group that is involved in educating people and medical experts on issues around cancer management.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Cancer is a large group of diseases that can start in almost any organ or tissue of the body when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably beyond their usual boundaries and spread to other organs.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for an estimated 10 million deaths annually and 70 per cent happen in low and middle-income countries such as Nigeria.
According to Ms Nwakanma, the preventive measure for breast cancer could be different from other kinds of cancer, even as she noted that the best approach is to go for screening tests to identify the types of cancers.
She added that vaccination now exists for some tpes of cancers but that “cultivating a healthy lifestyle is the best safety measure.”
She said: “There are vaccines available for some types of cancers such as the HPV vaccine aimed at preventing cervical cancer because the Human Papilloma Virus has been linked to about 70 to 90 per cent of cervical cancer cases
“And then we also have the Hepatitis B vaccine that reduces the risk of getting liver cancer. The third will be healthy choices; I’m saying that lifestyle choices and dietary choices are key to living a life that is most likely going to be free of cancers.”
Mrs Nwakanma, who doubles as the founder of Smile with Me Foundation, also noted that cancer is not curable but can be treated and managed, adding that some cancers reoccur in people who may have been treated and confirmed to be free of cancers.
“So there are different types of cancers but generally when cancers are caught early, you know, the patients have a better prognosis and better chances of being cancer-free once the treatment is well done by professionals,” she noted.
Speaking on cancer awareness, another medical practitioner, the Founder of Heal For Africa Foundation, Kelechi Okoro, identified that there are a lot of misconceptions and myths preventing people from accessing care.
She noted that there have been a series of campaigns to educate people on cancer, but some people believe cancer is a spiritual problem and not a medical problem.
She identified illiteracy at the grassroots as a major problem, noting that some people believe cancer is sexually transmitted or that it can’t affect them “because they serve a living God”.
On affordability of treatment, Ms Okoro said: “It depends on the kind of cancer but there is no type of cancer treatment that is affordable, from testing to treatment, palliative management and to prevent cancer from returning.
“No matter how wealthy you are, every Nigerian is just one ailment away from poverty and cancer is the kind of ailment that can take you from 100 to zero real quick when it comes to your finances.”
The medical experts also spoke on the commonest symptoms of cancer including changes in the appearance for breast cancer.
She said: “People must pay attention to the colouration, sizes of breast and particularly when the nipples become retracted or inverted and lumps are noticed in the breasts, armpits, or any discharge is observed from the nipples of men or women who are not lactating”.
For prostate cancer, she said some people might not experience the symptoms early and that these symptoms could be associated with urinary issues, erectile dysfunction, and excessive urination.
On her part, Ms Okoro said there are general symptoms of cancer which include fatigue, losing and gaining weight, blisters around the mouth, and bone pain among others.
She advised that when the symptoms occur, blood tests would help as screening meaures.
Project Pink Blue official speaks
According to the Programme Coordinator at Project Pink Blue, Gloria Okwu, cancer is a global health concern and that Nigeria contributes so much to the world’s burden of the disease.
“So many people die from cancer and Nigeria is one of the countries with cancer mortality, both children and adults, women or men. So it’s a big issue and we are more focused on cancer to bring awareness to the people,” she said.
She said Project Pink Blue is focused on cancer awareness, providing free cancer screenings, support to people battling with cancer, patient navigation, advocacy, fundraising for cancer patients, cancer research, oncology training and psychological support.
Speaking on the coverage of cancer in Nigeria’s National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Ms Okwu said most Nigerians didn’t use NHIS due to the delay and the cost of documentation.
“NHIS covers surgery but doesn’t cover drugs and most patients pay out of pocket. Some people opt for fundraising and selling of properties to be able to treat themselves,” she said.
Ms Okwu disclosed that they have recorded some strides, and some patients have been able to access the cancer health fund that has been approved by the federal government.
“Through the Cancer Treatment Fund introduced by the federal government cancer patients now access N1 million each and this is in effect in about six states of the federation. But N1 million is nothing for cancer care but at least we should commend the government for starting somewhere,” she said.
Ms Okwu said her organisation receives close to 100 calls every month from different parts of Nigeria from cancer patients or relatives seeking support for their treatment, “with some running to as much as 10 million or even 20 million in some cases.”
SOURCE: PREMIUM TIMES