Headline Health Nigeria Special Report

Why early diagnosis is critical to treatment of breast cancer

Photo: Arizona Oncology Foundation

The National Cancer Institute defines cancer as ‘’a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body.

Cancers do not only have health implications on the carrier but also some economic ones too. A Lancet oncology report on cancer care in sub-Sahara Africa indicates that Nigeria lost $5.9 bn to cancer in 2019.

The editor in chief of the lancet oncology report, Prof David Collingridge explained that the challenges of cancer faced by sub-Saharan Africa was enormous and could worsen if adequate measures were not taken.

According to Prof. Collingridge, Cancer in Africa is characterized by late stage presentation, delayed diagnosis, limited access to treatment, and poor outcomes relative to other geographic regions.

The Director global health catalyst, professor of radiation oncology of Johns Hopkins University, Wil Ngwa said cancer killed more than COVID-19 in 2021 in Africa.

Prof. Ngwa who explained that more than 28,000 children died of cancer in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020, called for equal urgency to be paid to the disease as in the case of COVID-19.

According to Prof. Ngwa, by 2030, Africa will witness 30% increase in cancer mortality in children, adding that globally, one million deaths per year will be recorded with children accounting for 30,000 deaths.

He therefore called on Africa to declare cancer an Emergency.

types of cancer

There are over 100 types of cancer and they are usually named after the organs or tissues where they are formed. For example, lung cancer, brain cancer and breast cancer.

Breast Cancer has over the years claimed the lives of thousands of women globally. According to a report by Liberty Health Nigeria, ‘’one in every eight women develops breast cancer in their lifetimes as about two-thirds of women with breast cancer are 55 or older’’.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths after lung cancer.

Photo: Onco

Symptoms of breast cancers include a breast lump or a nipple discharge other than breast milk, bloody discharge from the nipple, peeling, scaling, or flaking of skin on the nipple or breast, a sudden, unexplained change in the shape or size of the breast, inverted nipple, as well as a lump or swelling under the arm.

However, the disease is treatable especially when detected early enough.


According to experts, several risk factors such as age, early menstruation, and family history can be linked with breast cancer.

Others are excessive intake of alcohol and obesity.

Doctors have continued to advise women to always follow a healthy lifestyle, get regular screenings and being careful of the risk factors to enable them reduce their chances of developing the disease.

A family medicine practitioner, Dr. Musa Richard told Radio Nigeria that once a woman discovers an unusual lump or any other symptoms of breast cancer, they should immediately seek the help of a physician.

He added that the survival rate of breast cancer depends on many factors such as the type of cancer present and the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis.

Self examination Photo: Facebook
Early Diagnosis is key

A breast cancer survivor, Miss Gladys Reuben has advised people to speak out and seek medical help immediately they notice or suspect unusual signs around their breast and armpit region.

Miss Reuben told Radio Nigeria during an awareness campaign in Port-Harcourt, Rivers state that an early detection of the disease in 2017 helped her to weather the condition.

Gladys recounted how she was neglected by her fiancé during the period, adding that people should disregard myths about breast cancer and seek help from professionals.

Another lady said she had also spotted a lump in her breast and sort medical attention quickly, only to be given medication which dissolved the lump and was told by medical professionals that her condition was not cancerous.

Myths about cancer

There are many misinformations about breast cancer. Some of such myths say having a family history of breast cancer can cause one to develop the disease, which is not true.

It also has it that men do not develop breast cancer. However, reports from the National Breast Cancer Foundation have shown that each year, approximately 2,190 are diagnosed with breast cancer out of which 410 will die.

Other myths include finding a lump in the breast means having breast cancer, a mammogram can cause its spread, Anti-perspirants and deodorants causes breast cancer, as well as that breast cancer is contagious.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, these myths are false and misleading.


The President of the Association of Radio Therapist of Nigeria, Mrs. Oluwanife Osungbesan said there are 3 methods of treatment in Nigeria: surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

She however said they are expensive, driving patients to seek alternative forms of breast cancer treatment which could be detrimental to them.

Mr. Osungbesan advocated more funding so that more professionals could be trained.

”Cancer burden world over is huge and Nigeria is not exempted. If more people are trained, it will encourage cancer patients to visit hospitals knowing they will be attended to”, she noted.

For the President, Association of Radiation and Clinical Oncologists of Nigeria, Dr. Nwamaka Lasebikan, a multidisciplinary approach to cancer treatment is the best considering the rising incidences of the disease especially breast cancer.

Dr. Lasebikan, during a one-day symposium in Enugu, said multidisciplinary team management of cancer is more result oriented and should be incorporated as a treatment approach instead of the age long practice where cancer patients were attended to by just a particular doctor.

Awareness month

Globally, October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It was created in 1985 to increase awareness about the disease and also to promote screening and prevention of breast cancer.

To commemorate the month, people can be seen dressed in pink, wearing the breast cancer symbol while others choose to mark it quietly. The first 2 options are yet to really catch on in Nigeria.

The experts interviewed in this report called for more sensitization on the disease, saying campaigns should not only be done during the breast cancer month but all year-round screening.

Writing Annabel Nwachukwu with inputs from Desire Lordson, Nancy AnikaEzie; Editing by Tina Oyinsan