Alarming increase in number of cancer patients

26 Feb 2014 16:50pm
WINDHOEK, 26 FEB (NAMPA) – The number of cancer patients in Namibia doubled between 2006 and 2012, increasing from 1 525 to 3 092.
The radiation oncologist at the Windhoek Central Hospital’s Dr AB May Cancer Care Centre on Wednesday said this is alarming for a population of a mere 2,1 million people.
Dr Peggy Emvula said at the commemoration of World Cancer Day and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Healthy Lifestyle Day in the capital that these are laboratory-proven cases.
World Cancer Day is commemorated on 04 February, while the SADC Health Lifestyle Day is held on the last Friday of every February.
However, the ministry took the decision to hold a joint event commemorating both days on Wednesday.
Emvula noted that all cancer cases are not reported, as some patients present themselves very late, and the possibility of histological confirmation (using a microscope) is impossible.
In Namibia - unlike in most developing countries - breast cancer ranks number one in females, while cervical cancer ranks number two.
Prostate cancer ranks number one amongst males.
Emvula explained that 2012 estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that out of Namibia’s population of 2,1 million, 632 000 are women aged 15 and older, who are at risk of developing cervical cancer.
About 117 of these women are diagnosed with cervical cancer yearly, of which 63 succumb to the disease. Most of them are also infected with HIV, she added.
“It is a well-known fact today that cervical cancer is defined as a sexually- transmitted disease caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is spread by multiple sexual partners,” the cancer specialist said.
She went on to say that the most common cancers in Namibia are skin cancer, followed by Kaposi Sarcoma (a type of skin cancer), breast cancer, prostate cancer and cervical cancer.
The Cancer Care Centre is also faced with challenges of late presentation, and thus poor treatment outcomes for cancer patients; low levels of knowledge about reproductive cancers at community level; and the fear and stigma associated with finding out that one has cancer.
Other challenges include the non-availability of cervical cancer screening, as well as HPV vaccination in public health facilities, and the lack of holistic cancer control programmes in the country at all levels - from workplace to community level.
“At our Cancer Unit, we see plenty of patients from marginalised communities. As you may know, poverty and ignorance go hand in hand.
As a result, many patients come to us late when we are no longer able to help them,” Emvula stated.
In his response, Health and Social Services’ Minister Richard Kamwi said his ministry has plans to start administering the HPV vaccine.
“We cannot let our women die while we have the resources,” he stressed.
The HPV vaccine prevents the viruses which cause most cervical cancers.