By Gabriel Olawale
Cancer specialists have raised the alarm over the increasing number of patients presenting late for treatment saying it is making management of the condition difficult.
The group of experts who spoke in Lagos during the commemoration of the 2021 World Cancer Day held by NSIA-LUTH, called on the Federal and state governments to promote health insurance among the citizens with a view to addressing challenges associated with out -of -pocket payment.
The Head of Department of Radiotherapy, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Dr. Habeebu Muhammad, said Nigeria has high cancer mortality due to late presentation, “80 percent of cancer patients present at stage 3 or 4 when curative treatment is elusive.”
He explained that early detection through screening offers hope of better treatment and in most cases makes cure possible’.
“Unfortunately, even after detection, it takes a lot to convince cancer patients to come for treatment. Most of them will prefer alternative treatment or spiritual houses.
“When the disease has advanced and spread to different parts of the body, that is when they will realise that what they are doing is not appropriate, then they are redirected to the hospital by that time curative treatment is doubtful, we now have to do palliative treatment, that is why most patients die of cancer.
“We need more cancer centres, more professionals to treat cancer patients, we need education and funding.
Corroborating his views, Consultant Radiation & Clinical Oncologist, Dr. Anthonia Sowunmi who advocated for regular screening said the cost of screening was far cheaper than treatment.
“It’s very unfortunate that people still pay through out-of-pocket for cancer treatment. Cancer treatment is not like any other treatment because it is very expensive.”
Sowunmi who called for the incorporation of cancer treatment into National Health Insurance Scheme added that if a patient stops paying from the pocket, it would go a long way to alleviate the burden of cancer in Nigeria.
“Cancer care is expensive; by the time you factor chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy, drugs, etc., it will run into millions. That is why we are appealing to people to come early.
“When they present early it is easier and they can be cured. Most cancers are within the range of a reproductive group of 40 to 60 years.
She said that the cost of screening is far cheaper when compared to treatment, “some screening to check basic things is not more than N20,000 to N25,000 which you can give to yourself as a birthday gift.
On his part, Consultant Radiation and Clinical Oncologist, Dr. Adewumi Alabi, said the advent of COVID-19 has affected the care for cancer patients as some patients are now scheduled for a longer appointment to decongest the centre and comply with COVID-19 guidelines.
“The routine patients who visit the hospital have been streamlined, rescheduled for a longer appointment because we have to ensure we don’t expose workers to COVID-19 as well. If we lose the workforce there will be nobody to do the work.
“For many of our patients, we look at their contact history and assess them clinically, to check their oxygen circulation level and temperature whether it is on the high side.
“When we identify these patients we screen them and also send them for COVID-19 test and there are a lot of them that are positive.
Cancer is one of the chronic diseases that can affect the immunity of the patient, so when their immunity is compromised the probability that they will be affected with COVID-19 is high. At NSIA-LUTH, both doctors and patients comply with the Covid-19 guideline.
“When you look at COVID-19 morbidity incidence or people that die, you will see that majority of them have one form of illness or another. Either they are asthmatic, hypertension, diabetics, or lung respiratory problem.
A Consultant Radiation and Clinical Oncologist, Dr. Adegboyega Bolanle, however, admonished Nigerians to visit accredited cancer centres for screening.
“NSIA-LUTH cancer equipment is comparable to what is abroad. There is no cancer we cannot diagnose and treat. Although some people complain that it’s a bit expensive, we cannot compromise quality, the cost of treatment is reasonable such that most people can afford it.
“Go for screening, if you are detected early go for treatment, chemotherapy does not kill, this treatment we offer is standardly offered everywhere in the world. It is approved by all governments.