The scourge of kid cancer

The recent revelation that about 40,000 Nigerian kids are diagnosed of different types of childhood cancers yearly, out which 80 per cent die due to poor detection and clinical treatment, should ruffle feathers in the medical circle.

The disclosure was made by the founder of the Medicaid Cancer Foundation and First Lady of Kebbi state, Dr. Zainab-Shinkafi Bagudu, after a roundtable meeting organised by the foundation to mark this year’s childhood cancer month.
She said about 80 per cent of the cases in Nigeria and other low income countries end up in deaths unlike the high income countries where the cure rate of cancer in children is now about 85 per cent.

“In Nigeria, the prevalence is under-documented, but about 40,000 children with cancer die every year and we have other undocumented numbers. Globally there are over 400,000 childhood cancer cases.

“Again that is under-documented because of the poor diagnosis that we are talking about and low index of cases from clinicians and parents. Usually when children have fever, they tend to treat malaria and other infections,” she said.

According to her, the under-documentation was because of poor diagnosis and low index of suspicion from clinicians and even parents some of whom are unaware that cancer exists in children. She said some clinicians tend to treat malaria when children have recurrent fever before thinking of cancer.

She said the best ways to tackle childhood cancers in Nigeria include, awareness creation, high index of suspicion by clinicians, advocating that government needed to train more physicians in the field of cancer treatment. She lauded the federal government for including pediatric cancers in national programmes like the cancer health fund, and the chemotherapy access programme.

Long before now, cancer as a disease was common among adults. Cancer is a universal scourge. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the disease now kills more people than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Nigeria records no fewer than 72,000 cancer-related deaths annually among the adult population, with about 100,000 fresh cases of the disease surfacing correspondingly. In 2020 alone, the scourge claimed the lives of a total of 10m people, according to the statistics released by the WHO.

It is public knowledge that majority of cancer cases are either undertreated or underreported – many cancer victims die in silence. In our rural and semi-urban communities, afflictions of cancer are tied to witchcraft attack or other causative factors bordering on superstition.

A few years ago, cancerous afflictions were limited to the breasts (for women) and the lungs (for tobacco smokers). But this is no longer the case. Cervical cancer, leukemia (cancer of the blood), liver cancer, oral cancer, prostate cancer and colorectal cancer have become more rampant though they have high cure rates when detected early and treated according to best practices. All categories of people can be afflicted by the disease. Even those who lead healthy or unhealthy lifestyles; those who are physically fit or out of shape; those who exercise regularly or lead a sedentary existence; vegetarians and meat lovers are not totally immune to the cancer attack.

The disease remains a deadly pandemic that has no cultural, racial, religious or age barrier. Knowledge of the causes of cancer and interventions to prevent and manage the disease is necessary. Cancer can be controlled by implementing evidence-based strategies for the prevention of the ailment, as well as early detection and management procedures.

However, it is a well known fact that some unhealthy lifestyles and treatments are damaging to the body’s immune system. The human body is designed to heal itself but unhealthy eating habits such as consumption of fried, processed, sugary, junk/fast foods, excessive intake of alcoholic drinks and beverages laden with additive contents/ preservatives and, lately, artificially ripened fruits, have been identified as enemies of the human body. Nigerians need to be freed from the sick notion that someone must die of something someday. It is a senseless alibi to continue to indulge in such dangerous eating habits.

It is sad to note that Nigerian kids have now been sucked into the deadly cancer circle by their parents. Children form the higher percentage of consumers of cancer-induced foods and drinks. Most kids prefer ingesting sugary drinks and junk foods laced with all manner of preservatives that are carcinogenic.

We urge parents to be more circumspect in what they offer their kids at home, eateries and during festivities. Cancer cells feed on sugary beverages and junk foods. It is often said that people dig their graves with their teeth by what they eat. Our innocent children need to be rescued from the lethal jaws of this killer disease. One of the ways to achieve this is to enlighten them on the danger of indulging in the unhealthy habits they perceive as sources of enjoyment.

Regulatory agencies like NAFDAC should keep an eagle eye of beverages and soft drinks manufacturers. They are the major culprits that lead their patrons to cancer and premature death.

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