By Doris Obinna
Recognizing the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and rallying efforts under the theme “I am and I will,” this year’s World Cancer Day provided an opportunity to commend medical professionals, caregivers, policymakers, researchers and advocates whose work continued unabated, despite the global pandemic.
The goal of World Cancer Day, February 4, is to create awareness of cancer and catalyse action towards a future free of the disease and educate the public about cancer, as well as persuade governments and individuals across the world to take action against the disease.
According to studies, cancer remains the second deadliest affliction worldwide, proving fatal to one in six people in 2018.
Also, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) disclosed that, although many cancers may be preventable, not everyone enjoys equal access to life-saving early diagnosis or treatment. “The developing world endures the lion’s share of the cancer burden making the gap between low- and middle-income countries and high-income countries more pronounced. For example, 300,000 women die of cervical cancer each year in developing countries, in stark contrast to more affluent countries.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an additional strain on cancer services, making it more difficult for people to receive the care they need. In seeking alternatives to overcome various obstacles, this has led to more innovation and a greater emphasis on virtual or telehealth,” IAEA said.
Clinical oncologist and head of Oncology Department, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Prof. Abiodun Popoola, said cancer was the second commonest cause of death globally. He described cancer as an abnormal mass of cells whose growth is excessive, uncontrolled, purposeless and uncoordinated and persists in the same manner even after cessation of stimulus that initiated the growth, stressing that it could be a carcinoma, sarcoma, lymphoma, leukemia or cancers arising from the central nervous system.
He explained that one-third of these common cancers could be prevented, and 3.7 million lives could be saved if measures for prevention, early detection and treatment were implemented.
Popoola emphasised that recognising the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, was a major reason this year’s cancer day was dedicated to the courage and achievements of people living with cancer and their families, as well as the nurses, doctors, researchers, volunteers, advocates and others who care for them.
He said: “Cancer and COVID-19 pandemic have greatly affected delivery of care for our patients, ranging from lockdown that upstaged a lot of patient’s diseases to practicing social distancing in densely populated city like Lagos, to reducing the number of patients to be seen per clinic day to having online clinical meetings. This has definitely affected the practice of medicine globally, and I believe a lot of innovations are in the pipeline.”
While elucidating on the theme, Popoola encouraged the public that “whoever you are, your action matters, you could be a leader and make policies to advocate and invest in cancer care and research in prevention and cure, you could be a health care worker and advocate for those policies, create awareness and educate the public, you may be related to a patient or be a patient and still share your experiences and make your voices heard.”
Prevention and control
Poopla further to categorize preventive measures into primary, secondary and tertiary. He defined primary cancer prevention as the use of interventions to lower cancer risk.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution calls for action by World Health Organisation (WHO) and member states to address the increasing burden of disease due to cancer.
“Cancer is one of the most common causes of death, with nearly seven million deaths each year worldwide. Right now, 24.6 million people are living with cancer and by 2020 it is projected that there will be 16 million new cancer cases and 10 million cancer deaths every year.
“In order to address the rising health crisis, this WHA resolution gives special emphasis to the development and reinforcement of comprehensive national cancer control programmes that include prevention, early detection, improved treatment and palliative care, particularly for low- and middle-income countries.
“To strengthen WHO response to the cancer epidemic, a cancer control advisory committee to the director-general, consisting of high-profile experts in international public health and cancer control has recently been established,” WHO disclosed.
Adjusting to COVID-19
In March and April, as much of the world entered lockdown, the IAEA responded accordingly by providing virtual guidance and addressing the effects of the pandemic. The IAEA developed and disseminated new guidelines designed to help nuclear medicine departments minimize the risk of COVID-19 infections among patients, staff and visitors with new operating procedures. Subsequently, the IAEA hosted webinars in multiple languages with professionals from around the world, sharing their institutions’ experience and emerging best practices.
Through its Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, the Human Health Programme and the technical cooperation programme, the IAEA helps counterparts and specialists around the world to enhance their clinical capacities, deploy new technologies, implement best practices and expand access to life-saving services, while maintaining patient and staff safety.
The IAEA has developed guidelines to help nuclear medicine departments minimize the risk of COVID-19 infections among patients, staff and visitors.
The IAEA supports national governments in using nuclear science and technology to better diagnose, treat and manage this disease. It also helps member states in procuring equipment, training medical professionals and resource mobilization.
Poopola said: “According to Global Cancer Data (GLOBOCAN), an online database providing estimates of incidence and mortality in 185 countries for 36 types of cancer and for all cancer sites combined, 18 million cases were estimated to be diagnosed in 2018, and about 10 million people die from cancer annually.
“About 70 per cent of these cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. In Nigeria, for instance, 124,815 new cancer cases are diagnosed per year and 78,899 cancer deaths occur annually. The theme is a reminder that each one of us can play a role in reducing the impact of cancer. Recognizing the unique challenges the world has confronted with COVID-19, World Cancer Day 2021 is dedicated to the courage and achievements of people living with cancer and their families, as well as the nurses, doctors, researchers, volunteers, advocates and others who care for them and work on their behalf.
“The pandemic has shown how individuals, organisations and governments unite in a common cause to great effect. This World Cancer Day also engaged people from nations around the world in a collective effort to make sure that the voice of cancer is heard loud and clear and to show that together our actions matter.
“The global cancer burden has risen to 19.3 million cases and 10 million cancer deaths in 2020, an increase from 18.1 million cases and 9.6 million deaths in 2018, according to the latest research from International Agency for Research on Cancer. Much of this increase has been in developing countries, which the research indicates will continue to experience the greatest relative increases in cancer incidence by 2040.”