Breast cancer, particularly in Nigeria, has emerged as a significant concern both locally and globally. The survival rate for individuals diagnosed with breast cancer in Nigeria remains alarmingly low due to a combination of factors such as late-stage presentation, inadequate health-seeking behavior, misdiagnosis, reliance on faith healing and traditional medicine, and limited access to quality healthcare facilities and professionals.
Despite the efforts of various organizations, including voluntary and religious groups, to raise awareness and encourage early cancer screening for young girls and women, the desired outcomes have not been achieved. Many women are still reluctant to undergo screening due to concerns about cost, quality assurance, fear of chemotherapy, and cultural beliefs, especially as screening centers are predominantly staffed by male healthcare providers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that breast cancer, particularly in low-middle-income countries like Nigeria, is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. The high mortality rate is particularly prevalent among women in their pre-menopausal stage, ranging from mid-30s to mid-40s. Disturbingly, cases of breast cancer are even being observed among female adolescents and young women aged 15 to 25.
To combat this non-communicable disease and protect Nigeria’s female workforce, proactive measures must be taken by organizations, caregivers, and government agencies involved in healthcare services. These measures should focus on improving awareness, facilitating early detection, and ensuring accessible and affordable treatment options for breast cancer patients.
In 2020 alone, Nigeria recorded 28,380 new cases of breast cancer, making it one of the countries with the highest breast cancer mortality rates worldwide. The lack of adequate health facilities, particularly in rural and semi-urban areas, often leads affected families to seek alternative, ineffective treatments from spiritual or traditional healing homes, exacerbating the severity of the disease.
Healthcare professionals emphasize the importance of early detection and preventive measures to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Factors such as access to quality medical care, obesity, family history, religious beliefs, and sedentary lifestyles contribute to the development of breast cancer. Women are encouraged to minimize alcohol consumption, be cautious of menopausal hormone therapy and birth control pills, and ensure regular breast massages and breastfeeding for healthy breast maintenance.
Parents should also prioritize regular check-ups and tests for girls and young adults aged 15 to 25, as early detection can significantly impact treatment success. Additionally, environmental hazards and exposure to chemicals and carcinogens found in everyday products like soaps and body creams can increase the risk of breast cancer. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, protecting oneself from excessive sun exposure, and following recommended cancer screenings and check-ups are crucial preventive measures.
Breast cancer patients face various challenges, including financial constraints, lack of social welfare support, and difficulties in accessing affordable treatment options. Government initiatives, in partnership with private organizations, are essential to ensure adequate funding, availability, and affordability of drugs and treatment centers. The National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) has made efforts to alleviate the financial burden on cancer patients, but further outreach is needed to include rural and semi-urban women in the informal sector.
Despite the challenges, progress is being made in Nigeria to improve breast cancer treatment and support. The number of comprehensive cancer treatment centers has increased, and private entities have stepped in to fill critical gaps. However, more needs to be done to address the brain drain in the healthcare sector and ensure accessible and affordable healthcare for all.
Regular breast self-examinations are crucial for early detection. Women should check their breasts bi-monthly, particularly before and after their menstrual periods, and consult a healthcare professional if they notice any changes such as nipple inversion, skin changes, redness, flaking nipples, dimpling skin, or abnormal discharge. It is important to maintain a consistent pattern while examining the breasts to identify any lumps or abnormalities accurately. If any changes are detected, seeking medical advice promptly is crucial.
Addressing breast cancer in Nigeria requires a multi-faceted approach involving increased awareness, improved access to healthcare facilities, and comprehensive support for affected individuals. By implementing proactive measures and collaborating across sectors, Nigeria can reduce the burden of breast cancer and save the lives of countless women.