Africa records 1.1 million new cancer cases yearly—WHO

AFRICA — Every year, Africa records around 1.1 million new cases of cancer, resulting in up to 700,000 deaths, according to WHO.

Breast cancer, cervical, prostate, liver, and colorectal cancers account for almost half the new cases on the continent annually.

Children are also disproportionately affected. Around 90% of the more than 400,000 children diagnosed with cancer each year in the world live in low- and middle-income countries.

Survival rates in African countries are as low as 20% or less, compared to more than 80% in developed countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that cancer death rates in Africa will rise exponentially over the next 20 years, surpassing the global average by 30% if immediate action is not taken.

The global health organization also expressed concern that Africa has only 3% of the world’s cancer treatment facilities, with radiotherapy available in only 22 Sub-Saharan African countries, contributing to poor survival rates.

A combination of factors can be attributed to Africa’s growing cancer crisis including infections, environmental exposures, aging populations, increasing adoption of westernized lifestyles, infrastructure challenges, scarcity of qualified staff, critical shortage of diagnostics, treatment, and prevention facilities.

Other factors include patients who present with late-stage cancer, high treatment abandonment rates, and lack of awareness about cancer risk factors.

Many of these existing challenges were further exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, making an already dire situation worse.

Nigeria’s WHO county representative, Walter Mulombo, in his speech to mark the 2022 International Cancer Week, said a renewed effort to curb new cancer cases is urgent.

According to him, “common challenges faced in the region include limited access to primary prevention and early detection services, lack of awareness and education in addition to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

To close the care gap WHO is supporting a number of key initiatives in countries including the Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative, the Global Breast Cancer Initiative, and the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancers among others.

For example, in the African region, 45 percent of countries introduced national HPV vaccination programs to address the cervical cancer threat.

Despite the efficacy of HPV vaccination, Africa continues to experience significant challenges to broad implementation of the HPV vaccine.

Misinformation—for instance, that the HPV vaccine causes sterilization—is rampant in parts of Africa, and such rumors have deterred some women from seeking HPV vaccination.

HPV infections are common in young women, while cervical cancer typically occurs in women older than 35 years.

This suggests that cervical cancer can be prevented if detected early. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cervical cancer takes 15-20 years to develop in people with normal immune systems, but only 5-10 years in those with weakened immune systems, such as people with untreated Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infections.

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