Nigerians and Cancer
God forbid, but chances are that greater than 1in 10 Nigerians reading this article will have cancer in their life time and over 80% of those will die from it. We do not have competent epidemiological data, but we do not need data to validate what you and I can feel – that rate of cancer has skyrocketed in Nigeria across all age groups and with our poor access to quality health care, Nigerians are no match for cancer.
Practically every unmarried young woman over 30 has fibroid insidiously growing in the linings of their uterus. Breast cancer has become the new scourge of contemporary Nigerian women. Prostrate cancer is mowing down middle aged Nigerian men. Brain, liver, pancreatic, lung, colon, blood - just name it, cancers are now all over the place.
Health Commissioners for Mouth
Chances are that your State’s Commissioner for Health has degrees from here to Timbuktu and probably is also a Fellow of InterGalactic College of Medicine but has no clue how to craft a healthcare policy for cancer prevention and treatment. While they are busy padding their bank accounts and feathering their retirement nests, the rest of us are having to deal with cancer with zero help or guidance from the Health Ministries.
Exploitation of Cancer Patients
As if Cancer diagnosis is not a burden in and of itself, many unscrupulous doctors are taking advantage of ignorant, life-loving, Nigerians. A case in point: Two years ago, Chinwe, patient living at Awka complained of severe headache. She was rushed to a Teaching Hospital which could not resolve the headache. Then she was taken to an MRI clinic in Port Harcourt where imaging studies were done. Imaging studies were emailed overseas because the radiologist was out on vacation. US Radiologist confirmed that patient had glioma – a typically fatal type of brain cancer. A private clinic in Enugu insisted that brain biopsy and surgery will cure Chinwe for 1.1 Million Naira. Chinwe’s husband paid and hoped for the best against advice from a US oncologist to save his money. Pathological studies after biopsy confirmed glioma. The doctor later referred Chinwe to National Radiotherapy Center at Abuja to “complete treatment” after his surgery. The Enugu based doctor refused to listen to us about poor prognosis and insisted on his money in full before patient could leave. He said that we were playing God and that he practices with God and that was not the first time he treated glioma successfully and he does it by debulking and radiotherapy. He refused to talk to a US Oncologist. (This is the type of Cancer that killed Edward Kennedy). At Abuja Radiological Center, the machines were broken. Chinwe considered South Africa or Ghana where they had functional equipment. Chinwe finally went to Ghana for six weeks and paid twenty thousand dollars. Chinwe still did not feel better when treatment was done. Goddy, her husband was desperate for cure. So were Chinwe’s five young kids. Goddy sold off many of his landed properties and was prepared to fly his wife to India. He did not want to hear about poor prognosis. Upon coming back from Nigeria, Goddy allowed prayer warriors stepped in. A prayer outfit in Abeokuta asked for One thousand dollars by Credit Card – all online before letting Chinwe into their miracle hall. Goddy paid. Prayer warrior could not deliver. Chinwe later died within a couple of months.
This is pretty much the story of helpless Nigerians and cancer.
What is Cancer?
In lay man’s terms, think of cancer as a cell that will not stop dividing. As the mass of cancerous cells grow, they also grow new blood vessels to keep feeding the growing mass.
With those new blood vessels, cancerous cells can migrate to other parts of the body and start growing there too. Eventually the body is overwhelmed and the patient dies.
What Causes Cancer?
The list is endless but anything that can cause cancer is called a carcinogen. If you can control the carcinogens in your environment, in your stomach and intestines, and in your body, you have a chance of not getting cancer. But you sure can’t. Cell cycle regulation and cell differentiation is such a complex series of events that we do not have a complete understanding of the bewildering array of mechanisms that keep things in check. Every second in the body, millions of chemical reactions are taking place that can potentially cause a cell to literally behave differently. For instance, what they call free radicals are continually generated in the body and those free radicals can potentially transform any one of the many regulatory points needed to keep cells in check. To make things more daunting, all it takes is one wacky cell out of the well over fifty trillion cells in the human body to develop cancer. Fortunately for us, when cells change and are determined to be aberrant by the body, the body also has mechanisms to kill those aberrant cells.
Without going too deep into the science, the point is that the body is always battling to keep cancer cells from forming, and once formed, to kill them. Unfortunately, when we eat food containing carcinogens and we live in a world where we are all literally submerged in all sorts of short and super-short wavelength radiations coming from lasers, radio, broadcast, natural sources, we make it very difficult for the body to cope with its battle against cancer cells. With all the carcinogens the body has to deal with, and a person’s genetic make up contributing as well, it is becoming easier and easier to lose the battle against cancer.
The Nigerian Case
As you can imagine, when people have altered and poor nutritional status, sooner or later, they will lose the battle against cancer. One part of your body that does the heavy lifting of removing carcinogens that enter the body is the liver. If the liver is impaired by alcohol, chronic viral infections, infections or poor nutrition, your body can easily lose the fight against cancer.
Many Nigerians drink milk and eat pizza and all sorts of dairy products without regards to how traces of growth hormones found in those food substances can stimulate the growth of aberrant cells. Unfortunately, many ignorant Nigerians whose diets have been completely westernized consider that evidence of good living not knowing that they may be opening the road for cancer cells.
Meanwhile, same ignorant Nigerians have also avoided local vegetables, many of which contain anti-cancer compounds. They now eat Western vegetables drowned in a mind boggling amount of salad cream.
Mind you, those who eat Western foods are mainly the rich folks who can afford one million Naira for brain biopsy. The vast majority of Nigerians are malnourished and their poor nutritional status is no match for the many carcinogens that their bodies now have to contend with.
Basic Nutritional Education
Rich or poor, basic nutritional education is lacking in Nigeria and that is where the Health Ministries must be faulted. An immune system that is at the top of its game is required in today’s carcinogen-charged world. Many folks, including 99% of people reading this article have no idea what to eat to keep their immune system functioning at an optimal level. Nor do they know that sugars or stress can all affect one’s immune system. A weakened immune system means that the body becomes more susceptible to infections, the liver functions at a suboptimal level, and the body is less able to sweep and clean out transformed cells that can cause cancer.
Altered and poor nutritional status, I am firmly convinced, is the reason why the rate of cancer has skyrocketed in developing countries, including Nigeria.
If Prevention Fails, Early Detection is Your Best Chance
Your average Nigerian has no clue how to monitor their bodies for signs of any mass. Nor does he have a program of regular visits to screen his internal organs for cancer. A Professor of Urology at one of the Teaching Hospitals in Nigeria could not tell me where a patient can go for colonoscopy in Nigeria. Patient later went to India. Another Patient related to me had to have orchiectomy in the United States as a result of infection contacted in Nigeria from routine prostate biopsy. Nigeria as a nation does not even have any competent Cancer Centers where people can receive Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy.
It really just means that once preventive measures or lack thereof fail in Nigeria, cancer becomes a virtual death sentence.
Knowing all that, you would think that the Ministries will embark on a National Campaign to teach people what to do to avoid carcinogens and what to eat to keep their bodies in prime metabolic shape. The poor old man who is looking for beef and chicken stew to eat with his white rice needs to be told that he is better off with bitter leaf soup and small garri –with no meat if he can’t afford it. The poor old woman dipping bleached white bread in whole milk with Ovaltine and sugar has no clue that that whole milk containing small traces of hormones can lead to cancer. The little boy celebrating his birthday at Mr. Biggs with imported chicken parts made from six-week old broilers grown with hormones may not know that the hormone soaked broilers is going to literally kill him. Your average Nigerian in Diaspora is too busy running after dollars not knowing that stress is also an immune system depressant. Nor does he know what nutritional supplements he needs to take to equip his body with a high dose of anti-oxidants to help fight free radicals that can transform normal cells into cancer cells. Nor does he give a second thought to ordering Pizza and Happy Meal at McDonalds with milk shakes and super sized fat soaked French fries. Your average hard working Nurse-wife in America gives no thought to feeding her kids with packaged pre-cooked foods containing deadly carcinogens.
One can go on and on, but one must emphasize that our disappointed with our Doctors, particularly those in public Offices, are not doing enough to help Nigerians cope in this new world where each and every one of us appears to be totally submerged in an environmental casket of carcinogens. Unfortunately, while the developed countries are pumping out nutritional supplements, doing routine screening, educating their citizens, and doing their best to fight cancer when diagnosed, we in Nigeria are totally clueless and so totally helpless that cancer is becoming the commonest cause of death in our country.
Chris Aniedobe is a graduate of Biochemistry from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Biotechnology (with Distinction) from the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Eddy Ukegbu, former President of Imo State Congress, USA, and to another friend of mine and in-law who is battling cancer right now in New Jersey. Unfortunately, his cancer has spread and I feel so sad knowing that the world is about to lose one of its finest gentleman.
Re: Nigerians And Cancer
First-lady posted on 08-10-2012, 12:36:08 PM
Has it come to that?
Sad story there about the young woman.
Due to a recent experience we had as a family which can fill a book,I advise every Nigerian,to do their homework well before taking a family member to hospitals both in Nigeria and outside of Nigeria
there are so many people out there ready and willing to take advantage of desperate relatives of the sick and milk the last penny out of you.
Speaking from a harrowing experience
Medical OBT is real
My story would qualify as a series on an NTA network
God is a merciful God
Re: Nigerians And Cancer
Oyewalesuraj posted on 08-10-2012, 13:52:56 PM
Great article. Please send it to newspapers for broader exposure.
I am also worried about the rampaging cancer in our society. Too bad I opened this after devouring some creamy cakes!
Re: Nigerians And Cancer
Enyi posted on 08-10-2012, 14:15:44 PM
This statement is contradictory. If there are no epidemiological data, it is impossible to say whether the rate of cancer has risen or not. The fact that there is an increased awareness does not necessarily translate into factual increase. Secondly, it is necessary to establish whether any documented increase is real or due to improvement in detection. Thirdly, do we even have evidence that all the purported cancers are truly cancer?
Can the writer provide data to support this generalization?
I have a feeling that you are misquoting the clinic. No neurosurgeon will make such a statement for the simple reason that brain biopsies are taken to establish the type of tumor and not as a curative procedure. As far as I know, there is only one fully equipped private neurosurgical clinic in Enugu and the owner has a well-established track record. I believe that Chinwe was advised to have a biopsy as a first step because that will determine the nature of the glioma and subsequent line of treatment. FYI, glioma is not one tumor but a group of tumors with different treatment.
Depending on the type of glioma, debulking and radiotherapy may be the treatment of choice. Why should he talk to the US Oncologist? I hope you are not one of those who believe that every doctor practising in US is better than his counterpart elsewhere.
As my Slovak friends often say, hope is the last thing that leaves a dying man. Many people, in many parts of the world are not able to adjust to reality. Once upon a time, a fake doctor in Ontario, Canada, managed to rip off rich cancer patients with promise of cures that never materialized. He had done the same in UK and another European country (cannot remember the name) before the long arms of the Law caught up with him in Canada. I vividly remember when a "big man" was shot dead in Lagos. His associates and members of his congregation (these included medical doctors) followed the body to LUTH mortuary where they fasted and prayed for 3 days hoping for a miracle. This was in spite of the fact that the guys skull was shattered and pieces of his brain (sorry for the graphic details) were all over his head.
Finally, the rest of the write-up is full of generalization. I shall briefly comment on the excerpt below:
Why do you expect a professor of urology to tell you where colonoscopy is done? This is obviously outside his specialty. You should have directed your question to a gastroenterologist. The story of having an orchiectomy because of infection contacted from routine prostate biopsy seems rather odd. Do you have evidence that the guy did not have the infection prior to the biopsy?
As of now, the causes of most cancers are not known. In some cases risk factors have been documented and this has led to a reduction in the rate of such cancers. For example, brain and ovarian cancers remain problematic world-wide because they have so far defied early detection. On the other hand, cancer of the uterine cervix is not only preventable but is also amenable to early detection. It will therefore be wrong to lay too much emphasis on diet and early detection. Each case has to be treated on its own merit.
Re: Nigerians And Cancer
Anioma777 posted on 08-10-2012, 14:40:34 PM
A good article but cancer does not discriminate but I suppose a change in life style and luck of the draw gives us a fighting chance. I must give some credit to some Nigerian doctors, whilst they lack the equipment they are some old school thoroughbreds that have diagnosed cancer when some Nigerians have been coming abroad for a check up after winning the battle with another form of cancer. I think early detection or regular checks is important. Two most common ones are prostate cancer and breast cancer, but on average many Nigerians in particular men are reluctant to do this. Your faith can also play a part but not my going to stupid churches that are looking to gain financially from your fear.
I remember some demented pastor handing my cousin a "blessed" hanker chief to lay on my aunty 3 times a week and promised she will be healed of breast cancer in 3 months. The hanker chief cost N20000. I took the hanker chief and used it to blow my nose. I told my cousin your lived and grew up in Nigeria and you fall for such a blatant scam irrespective of the fact my aunty had been a member of this yeye church for almost a decade. Granted when one is afraid you might think of all sorts but what is meant to be will be. Cancer is one of those areas of medicine where I think with all the funding it gets its return its ROI is rather poor.
Re: Nigerians And Cancer
Dewdrops posted on 08-14-2012, 14:25:56 PM
Death is no respecter of persons.
Play well thy parts!