World Cancer Day 2021: The Challenges of Metastatic Breast Cancer in Nigeria
Updated: Apr 30
February 4, 2021
Today, February 4 is World Cancer Day. There is no better time to shed light on the burden of Metastatic Breast Cancer in Nigeria.
Cancer is a disease of the genes. Lifestyle factors, exposure to some chemicals and radiation, heredity and some viruses all contribute to the development of cancer by triggering changes in a cell’s genes. Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast. It is the most common cancer in Nigeria. Breast cancer occurs in women although men can also have breast cancer. Some of the common symptoms and signs of breast cancer may include a lump in the breast, bloody discharge from the nipple and changes in the shape, size or texture of the nipple.
Metastatic Breast Cancer (also known as Stage 4) or advanced breast cancer is cancer that has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body; most often the bones, lungs, liver or brain.
Cancer cells can break away from the original tumor in the breast and travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system, which is a large network of nodes and vessels that works to remove bacteria, viruses, and cellular waste products. Although Metastatic Breast Cancer has spread to another part of the body, it is still breast cancer and treated as breast cancer.
Breast cancer can come back in another part of the body months or years after the original diagnosis and treatment. Nearly 30% of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will develop metastatic disease. Some people have metastatic breast cancer when they are first diagnosed with breast cancer. This means that the cancer in the breast wasn’t detected before it spread to another part of the body.
In Nigeria, about 50% of women who develop breast cancer present with Stage 4 (metastatic) disease at diagnosis. Dealing with Metastatic Breast Cancer presents many challenges; for the person diagnosed, their caregivers and the medical team.
According to the Executive Director of CancerAware Nigeria, Tolulope Falowo, ‘Breast cancer is not a death sentence. The important thing is early detection with the right treatment. Check your breasts regularly. If you see anything unusual, go to the hospital immediately, don’t delay. If you are not satisfied with a particular hospital/clinic, get a second opinion.’
She continued, ‘Nigeria is seeing a rise in cancer cases – especially breast and cervical cancer. Most of these cases present at the hospital in the advanced stages of the disease.
There is a huge disparity in the area of cancer care in Nigeria. Indigent and low-income individuals facing a cancer diagnosis in the country usually do not have good outcomes. There are several reasons for this. These include poverty, ignorance, cultural beliefs, inadequate referral systems, inadequate diagnosis, fear of diagnosis, ill-trained health workers, lack of national cancer screening programs and a dearth of well-equipped treatment centres to mention a few. Also, there is no National Cancer Screening Programme to help with prevention and early detection of common cancers such as breast and cervical cancer. There are inadequate funding resources available to help patients with the huge costs of cancer treatment. Many people are left on their own with no succour.’
‘All hands must be on deck to reduce the incidence and fatalities from cancer in Nigeria. Cancer does not discriminate, it can happen to anyone. We must be aware of the risk factors for common cancers. The awareness and information drive must reach every nook and cranny of the country. Also, it mustn’t end at awareness, action must follow. Women must do their regular breast checks (monthly and annually). Women aged 40 and above should have a screening mammogram each year. If there is a history of breast cancer in the family, you should speak to your doctor about starting personalised breast cancer screening earlier.’
In 2019, to address the lack of information and knowledge around Metastatic Breast Cancer, CancerAware Nigeria and a group of oncology professionals in the country developed the MobiPINK Breast Cancer Project. The project is supported by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) SPARC Programme. The goal of the project is to deliver better outcomes for both metastatic breast cancer patients and their caregivers by providing information and support for treatment navigation and care to them thereby improving the quality of life of patients in addition to providing resources and support for their caregivers in the course of the patient’s treatment journey.
In October of the same year, CancerAware officially launched the MobiPINK Breast Cancer Telephone Helpline which is open to patients, caregivers and the general public on enquiries and information around Breast cancer. For callers in Nigeria, the Helpline can be reached on 0809 4444 039 and is open Mondays to Saturdays.
As part of the NGO's activities this World Cancer Day, they have organised an online Support Group Meeting for Breast cancer patients, caregivers and the general public taking place on Saturday, February 6, 2021 by 4 p.m (W.A.T).
To attend the virtual event, register at bit.ly/SupportGroupMeeting
CancerAware Nigeria is a women’s cancer charity committed to reducing the cancer incidence in Nigeria through prevention and early detection.