Lancet oncology warns about rising burden of cancer in sub-Saharan Africa

AFRICA – According to a new study by Lancet Oncology, cancer deaths in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are projected to reach one million deaths a year by 2030 without rapid interventions.

The study also highlighted that women are more affected by cancer than men in sub-Saharan Africa with breast and cervical cancer among the most common types of cancer in the region.

Furthermore, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in Sub-Saharan Africa with 129,000 new cases diagnosed in 2020 and the disease has surpassed lung cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide.

Childhood cancer prevalence in Sub-Saharan Africa now stands at 56.3 cases per million and under current projections, half of the global childhood cancers in 2050 will occur in Africa,” the study further revealed.

The high incidence of cancer in the region is attributed to increase in infections, environmental exposures, aging populations, increasing adoption of westernized lifestyles, infrastructure challenges, scarcity of qualified staff along with a critical shortage of diagnostics, treatment and prevention facilities.


Other factors that can be attributed to sub-Saharan Africa’s growing cancer crisis include patients who present with late-stage cancer, high treatment abandonment rates and lack of awareness about cancer risk factors.

Subsequently, the Lancet Oncology commission has presented a framework that can be used by governments and non-governmental organizations to increase access to cancer care, accelerate cancer prevention and increase survival in SSA.

The Commission emphasized that the pursuit of robust cancer registries, effective cancer control plans, early cancer screening and detection along with the integration of palliative care into the cancer care pathway as critical to cancer control in the region.

In parallel, there needs to be a greater focus on the implementation of telemedicine and new technologies, building and training the oncology workforce, and boosting cancer research,” according to the researchers.

The study recommends that public health campaigns and transformative policies are fundamental in any effective cancer control programme to foster cancer prevention uptake as well as raise population awareness about harmful risk factors, healthy habits and dispel misinformation.

For instance, Rwanda’s implementation of the national HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) vaccination programme as a cost-effective way to prevent cervical cancer has resulted in Rwanda becoming one of the countries with the highest HPV vaccination coverage worldwide.

The commission further suggests that sustainable funding mechanisms should be put in place where finances are mobilized, pooled and then allocated to health partnerships to ensure that patients get faster and more equitable access to cancer medicines.

In addition, the Commission advised each SSA country to develop or update its national control plan to include childhood cancer plans, managing comorbidities, a reliable supply of medication together with the provision of psychosocial, supportive and palliative care.

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