The new report that about 57 per cent of cases of childhood cancers in West Africa are never diagnosed is mind-boggling. The study, published in the journal, The Lancet Oncology, stated that in South East Asia and West Africa, undiagnosed childhood cancer cases are as much as 49 to 57 per cent.
According to the report, about three per cent of such cases in Western Europe and North America are not diagnosed. The report also regretted that apart from Cameroon and Mali, many countries in West Africa, including Nigeria, do not even have available public registry data on cases of childhood cancers.
The Lancet Oncology study also estimated that there could be as many as 400,000 new cases of childhood cancers annually instead of the current 200,000. The researchers are of the view that if there are no improvements, as many as three million more cases will not be properly diagnosed between 2015 and 2030.
Although the National System of Cancer Registries (NSCR) has been raising awareness about cancer since its establishment in 2009, it has not been able to provide much information about cases of childhood cancers in the country. The study stated that there were 397,000 childhood cancer cases globally in 2015, compared to 224,000 that were recorded as diagnosed. This invariably indicated that 43 per cent of the global cancer cases were not diagnosed.
While in most regions of the world, the number of new childhood cancer cases is stable or declining, it is not so in many parts of West Africa and some other low and middle-income countries where about 92 per cent of new cases occur. Available statistics show that that there will be 6.7 million new cases of childhood cancer worldwide between 2015 and 2030. It is feared that as many as 2.9 million cases will be missed if the performance of health systems does not improve.
Another report by Cure Search for Children’s Cancer identified cancer as the number one cause of death in children. It noted that 43 children are diagnosed with cancer every day, even as 12 per cent of the children diagnosed do not survive. According to the report, the average age of children diagnosed is six, and more than 40,000 children undergo treatment for cancer each year.
These figures are quite alarming. Sadly, the government is seemingly not doing enough to address the scourge. Ignorance is reportedly a major contributor to the childhood cancer burden in the country. In most parts of the country, many people believe that children are immune from cancer.
The rise in childhood cancer deaths has been attributed to misdiagnosis and wrong treatment of such cases by medical professionals. Children are treated for common ailments like malaria, typhoid and measles, even when such conditions recur. Hardly is an ailing child subjected to the rigours of comprehensive cancer screening. Only a few doctors would conduct further investigations and refer the child to specialists in paediatrics.
It is obvious that early diagnosis and adequate care would reduce the prevalence of childhood cancer in Nigeria and other developing countries. To address the situation, government should strive to correct the wrong impression that children are immune from cancer. As a matter of urgency, the Federal and State governments must embark on a campaign to enlighten the public that anyone could be affected by cancer.
We are aware of efforts by the Federal Government to establish some cancer centres across the country. While we commend the government for this gesture, it is imperative that more cancer centres are established across the country. General hospitals should be equipped for cancer screening, while each state should have a facility for comprehensive cancer screening.
Establishing special cancer centres for diagnosis and treatment of children would be a step in the right direction. The NSCR should be proactive in sourcing and disseminating accurate data on childhood cancer cases in the country.