Cancer month: Time to move beyond rhetoric

WE have said it before and we say it again. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and statistics show that an estimated one in eight women will have breast cancer in their lifetime.

Regrettably too many of them may not know they have the condition until it’s too late, which is why early detection can be the difference between life and death.

Doctors emphasise early detection since tumours can be picked when they are still as small as four to eight millimetres, ensuring treatment success.

While the month is dedicated solely to breast cancer, we feel other forms of cancer deserve attention too.

While so much attention and resources have been channelled towards the fight against HIV and Aids, a development that saw us emerge as one of the success stories in Africa with an HIV prevalence rate of 13,9 percent, not much — it seems — has been committed to the silent killer, cancer.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care indicate that 7 000 new cancer cases are reported annually and 60 percent of them, according to the Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry, are HIV-related.

Of these, only some 1 300 to 2 000 is treated with radiotherapy.

Worldwide, cancer is responsible for 7,6 million deaths, two thirds of which are recorded in low-middle income countries.

A study published in the International Journal of Cancer indicated that cancer patients in Harare are not likely to survive five years after diagnosis at present levels of care, which is a greater call for action.

To this end, we feel it’s high time Government and other stakeholders seriously consider giving cancer as much attention as HIV and Aids are getting.

The authorities should seriously consider a cancer levy that can help in setting up requisite cancer support services or to subsidise the cost of treatment. The case for a cancer levy is made even stronger by revelations by the Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry that 60 percent of the cancer cases recorded in Zimbabwe are HIV-related.

This is especially so given that the requisite medicines, technologies and services are not widely available and accessible due to their high cost, resulting in a lot of premature deaths each  year.

Be that as it may, we also urge lifestyle intervention since about 40 percent of some cancers can be prevented by adopting healthy lifestyles such as healthy diets (increased intake of fruits and vegetables), avoiding tobacco use (smoking, chewing and snuff), and reducing or avoiding alcohol assumption.

Screening which includes Pap Smears; Prostate Specific Antigens and Clinical Breast Examinations as well as counselling services must be made available at health centres and should even be offered for free as is done with chronic illnesses like tuberculosis.

It is time to tame cancer.

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