Celebrating World Cancer Day With Cancer Voices

The Breasted One Foundation screening programme

Today is World Cancer Day!

February 4 each year is set aside as a day to highlight the global burden of cancer on individuals, families, communities, countries and the world at large.

Commemorated with various themes each year, World Cancer Day has come to stay as the day that a spotlight is put on cancer for actions to be taken against its further spread. 2  Today’s commemoration is under the tagline ‘We Can. I Can’.  And various activities are currently ongoing to explore how everyone – as a collective or as individuals- can do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer.

In Ghana, one non-governmental organisation working together with other cancer charities to fight for policies and patients is Cancer Voices Ghana, founded by Dr Raphael Nyarkotey Obu, a research professor of prostate cancer and holistic medicine.

Cancer Voices GH represents the voices of people from across the country that have all been affected by cancer in some way.

They share their experiences to help shape cancer services and improve cancer care.  Cancer Voices

Just as cancer affects everyone in different ways, so are there people from all walks of life who have beat cancer and survived treatment, as well as health professionals dedicated to cancer care who are supporting others to take various actions to reduce the impact of cancer.

Aunty Gladys Boateng is a breast cancer survivor and the director of Reach for Africa Ghana. She has lived the past 17 years of her life supporting people with breast cancer, after beating cancer.

“I want you to know that this is not a death sentence, so go to the hospital follow the doctor’s advice add prayer and it shall be well,” she says in an earlier interview.

She says since the inception of her organisation 10 years ago, over 6,000 goody bags containing supportive kits for breast cancer patients have been distributed to breast cancer patients who had gone through surgery.

Dr Naa Adorkor Aryeetey, a specialist radiation oncologist at the radiotherapy department of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) who has worked on cancer cases at the centre for the past six years, says there are countless testimonies on cancer treatment.

“I have seen so many people who have survived breast cancer but one that really struck a chord was this young lady who had cancer in one of her breasts,” Dr Aryeetey says.

At the time we saw her, she was not married and it was really difficult for her to decide where to have her breast removed or not because that was what she needed. After convincing her, she agreed to have her breast removed. She finished her chemotherapy, radiotherapy and was discharged.

Her fear was that her boyfriend would leave her, but he didn’t, they got married she was on some medication for five years she finished the medication, she got pregnant and she has had two kids.

Another lady that had both her breast removed 25 years ago is living a full life, Dr Aryeetey adds, wishing more survivors will come out and speak about it.

Ghana’s Cancer Statistics

Causing more than 8.2 million deaths annually, cancer is one of the top killer diseases in the world.

The estimated number of 14 million plus new cases occurring every year is expected to increase by 70 percent in the next two decades.

Dr Efua Commeh of the Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Programme, Ghana Health Service (GHS) says out of the 16,000 new cancer cases which are recorded yearly in the country, more than 44 percent result in deaths.

“Data from the health service shows that 3052 cases of cervical cancer were recorded in 2015 out of which 1556 died representing 51 percent, breast cancer also recorded 2260 cases with 1021 deaths representing 45 percent, prostate cancer has 912 cases being recorded with 680 deaths representing 75 percent,” she says.

Liver cancer had the highest fatality rate of 97 percent, claiming 1, 856 lives out of 1, 923 cases recorded, with 1,000 childhood cancers being recorded,” she adds.

Dr Aryeetey says the centre has been seeing about a 1,200 new cases every year, with breast cancer being the commonest.

“When I came to the centre, we saw a lot of advanced diseases, it is not that it has changed too much but the truth is that these days we see some patients who have early stage disease as well,” she states.

Dr Abu says although there is scanty data on prostate cancer, epidemiological studies have revealed that more than 200 out of every 100,000, male have the disease.

He further discloses that more than 70 percent of Ghanaians presenting with prostate cancer do so very late with locally-invasive and metastatic disease.

“No significant improvement in prostate cancer mortality has been seen and mortality rates appear high in Ghana,” he adds.

Causes of cancers

Dr Obu who also doubles at the president for the Men’s Health Foundation Ghana states that from his research, there is no single thing that causes cancers; it is a spectrum of diseases and not a single entity.

He, however, adds that in reality, every cell has the ability to cancer, and a variety of factors can prompt a cell to do so. And while most oncologists (and even leading cancer associations) consider cancer a genetic disease, that realisation is not entirely true.

He explains that there are many risk factors to consider—race, family history, physical health and lifestyle—even geographic location, bio-chemical difference—are all factors that can increase the likelihood of developing cancers. Most of these risk factors are not necessary cancer causing agent.

Dr Commey says other risk factors of cancer include increased life expectance, pollutants, tobacco use, excessive use of alcohol and habits like obesity or physical inactiveness poor diets, including low fruits and vegetables and chronic untreated infections.

She adds that poor screening, diagnosis and treatment of cancers also add to the disease burden of the country.

“Some of the reasons why we have high cancer cases in Ghana include the lack of health workers, the quality of our healthcare system, distrust in the medical sector, lack of screening programmes and centres across the country, few charities fighting against cancers, our tertiary institutions not running courses in cancers to train expert in the management of the disease, cancer registries and misinformation regarding right treatment option in the media,” Dr Abu chips in.

National Cancer Strategy

Dr Commey says the country’s national strategy for cancer control in the country is to reduce the incidence and mortality of cancer by 30 percent through primary prevention, effective screening and early detection document 50 percent of all cancer cases and establish a cancer registry to form the basis of delivering cost effective interventions for research and surveillance.

“Improve the quality of life for those with cancer and their family by 40 percent through support, rehabilitation and palliative care by improving service delivery across the continuum of cancer control through effective planning and co-ordination linked to improved resources,” she indicates.

Dr Abu links the national strategy to the new governments manifestos, reiterating that the New Patriotic Party’s  (NPPs) manifesto recognises the increasing incidence of cancer as a national problem and has outlined in the manifesto to  establish centres at all levels of the healthcare delivery system for screening, diagnosis, early detection and prevention of  these  cancers,  and  this  will  be  paid  for  under  the  restructured  and revitalised NHIS.

“We consider this as a step in the right direction to any country in willing developing pragmatic measures to fight cancers,” he emphasizes.

Way Forward

Dr Abu suggests enhanced advocacy against the national health challenge, calling for a national declaration of particular months for cancers such as prostate cancers on Father’s Day to be declared as a National Prostate Awareness Day to help awareness and testing of the disease, while Mother’s Day should also be declared as a National Breast Cancer and Women Cancers Day.

“Serious awareness campaign should target Ghanaians from all socio-economic groups. It should also target their key influencers, such as wives/partners, friends and family,” he mentions.

He says that what makes cancer so fatal is the fact that it takes so many years to develop cancer microscopically before the disease starts showing signs and symptoms, and the longer one lives, the more one accumulates toxins and the higher the chance of developing it.

“I want the government to establish a national cancer foundation to acts as funding agencies and work with all cancer charities in the country to send the message of awareness to every corner of the country.

There should be local research into cancers and traditional and alternative medicines to help find a cure for cancers and help deal with the side effect of conventional treatment.

All cancer treatment centres should have a unit for evidence-based alternative and complementary unit which have been shown to help improve the quality of life of patients and patient should have them paid under the NHIS.

There should be a national survivorship centre to help those diagnosed with cancers,” he suggests.

He advocates patients to be able to make their informed decision on cancer treatment based on the stage of their disease pad under the NHIS.

According to Dr Nyarkotey, “Politics is like finding cure for cancer. It is not luxury. It is a human need that is why no one should use this need for his or her selfish interest. “

“There is something wrong when the people you are serving are dying of this need, so  we will keep on reminding the general public on governments promise to the general public on recognising cancers as a national challenge,” he emphasizes.

By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri