Breast cancer is no longer death sentence

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The First Lady of Ondo State, Mrs. Betty Akeredolu; Head, Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan (UI), Prof. Irene Pogoson and Consultant Surgeon, Department of Surgery, University of Ibadan College of Medicine, Dr. Omobolaji Ayandipo at the weekend dismissed widely held views that breast cancer was no longer a death sentence if necessary precautions could be taken. They rather canvassed for regular breast examination, early diagnosis of the disease and prompt medical treatment as fundamental steps every breast cancer patient, indeed all women, should regularly take in order to reduce the rate of annual mortality associated with breast cancer.

They made the remarks recently at a sensitization programme on breast cancer awareness held at Lady Bank Anthony Hall, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan under the theme: “Basic Overview on Breast Cancer.” 

In Nigeria, specifically, breast cancer is the most common malignancy among women, accounting for about 22.7 percent of all new cancer cases. With approximately 15,000 deaths in 2022, the disease has the highest breast cancer mortality rate of all nations. Pogoson, a Professor of International Relations, convened the sensitization programme to change widely held views that breast cancer was synonymous with death and to create greater awareness among members of the academic community.

The programme was used to demonstrate how every woman can carry out regular breast self-examination for the purpose of early diagnosis and present the field experience of breast cancer. Speaking on the myths and facts of breast cancer, Ayandipo observed that breast cancer “is not a death sentence” contrary to a general notion among most Nigerians that the disease cannot be treated. Ayandipo, the guest speaker at the programme, also observed that it was illogical to describe it as a spiritual attack, warning that the disease “is one of the realities of the 21st century that must be confronted.”

“Breast cancer is not a death sentence as it is treatable. Early detection through breast examination regularly and prompt medical attention are very important to reduce the rate of mortality.” Akeredolu, a survivor of breast cancer herself, urged members of the academic community to support the war against breast cancer, which according to her, would bridge the gap between the town and the gown.

Akeredolu, founder of Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN), noted that it was imperative for every stratum of the society and government to get involved in order to stop the stigmatisation of breast cancer patients. Akeredolu who was represented by BRECAN’s National President, Amb. Tolu Taiwo said the academic community owes it a duty to be in the forefront of creating awareness and educating the public on the predominance of breast cancer that confronts women in the country and all over the world.

Akeredolu, a survivor of breast cancer herself, urged members of the academic community to support the war against breast cancer, which according to her, would bridge the gap between the town and the gown. She explained that the danger associated with it “requires their full support to give hope to patients,” acknowledging that she was successfully treated at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, about 26 years ago.

The fact that she was treated at UCH is a pointer that medical doctors in the country are up to the task of helping women to survive the scourge. What is most important is to detect it at an early stage to save lives. She, therefore, commended Pogoson for convening this sensitization programme to create awareness about the danger associated with breast cancer. She disclosed that BRECAN was committed to reducing the burden of breast cancer in the country with offices in Oyo, Ondo, Imo, Bayelsa, Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). “I want to sincerely urge the academics to be in the forefront of creating awareness and educating the public on breast cancer. By doing this, they would have succeeded in helping to bridge the gap between the town and the gown. It is unfortunate that many women in the country lost their lives due to unawareness of their body status as early detection through awareness saves lives.”

Explaining the reason for the programme, Pogoson observed that breast cancer “is something that we do not like to talk about despite the fact that it affects the lives of so many people. But it is important that we do talk and raise awareness. If we do not talk, how are we going to fight cancer?” 

She said breast cancer “is the most common malignancy in women worldwide. Averagely, as reported, one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. “This sensitization programme was therefore deemed important to create awareness on this issue, which is gaining traction in our society, not just amongst the elderly but now, even amongst adolescents and young adults. The heart breaking breast cancer diagnosis of two of my 400 level female students under 25 brought this close to home and is the major driving factor in organising this programme. It stimulated my desire to conduct this sensitization programme on breast cancer awareness.” 

Pogoson also pointed out the fact that cancer was a development issue, which according to her, required collective responses from corporate organisations, government and people at large to decisively address. She confirms that WHO estimates that 70 percent of cancer deaths occur in low and middle income countries like Nigeria and, by 2030, LMICs are expected to bear the brunt of the expected 24.1 million new cancer cases per year. In particular, breast cancer is the most common malignancy among women, accounting for 22.7 percent of all new cancer cases. 

With over 15,000 deaths in 2022, Pogoson said: “Nigeria has the highest breast cancer mortality rate of all nations. Given the social and economic burden of cancer in many low and middle income countries, reducing the prevalence of cancer and non-communicable diseases, including breast cancer burden is essential for tackling social and economic inequity, motivating economic growth and engendering sustainable development.

“It is imperative that the government implements cost-effective breast cancer interventions across the care continuum as this will strengthen the health system and increase the country’s capacity to respond to a health condition that afflicts a significant percentage of its population. Government’s implementation of cost-effective breast cancer interventions is thus critical to achieving not only SDG health targets, but also the SDGs more generally. We know that there’s a significant nexus between a healthy population and sustainable development – sustainable development relies on a healthy population the same way a healthy population relies on sustainable development.”

While appreciating the convener, the Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof. Kayode Adebowale said men are also critical partners in creating awareness about breast cancer. Adebowale, represented by Deputy Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ronke Baiyeroju, noted that women deserved to successfully wage the war against the monster called breast cancer.

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