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Dar stakeholders struggle to fight cancer

This was possible after the arrival of renowned cancer specialist Dr Sridhar from the largest Cancer Centre in South Asia, HCG Group, Bangalore, India.  

Dr Sridhar was available for awareness and review of diverse cases. The clinic was held at the TGDLC premises ground floor and thereafter at Regency Hospital in the city. 

It was an opportunity for all cancer patients, who had been treated in India to be reviewed by the specialist and save them the cost of going to India for further check ups or treatment.  

The more people know about their health status earlier and do something about it, the more they are likely to save their lives and seek medical treatment abroad, which is expensive. 

The TGDLC has already started arranging for monthly videoconferences based clinics and quarterly visits by Indian specialists. This is good news and hopefully this rare opportunity will increase public awareness of the disease and of its prognosis, diagnosis, treatment and prevention measures.  Breast cancer cases seem to increase in Tanzania and a few people have died of it.

Women especially are highly advised to examine their breasts regularly each month through what is called breast self-examination to minimise chances of developing breast cancer.  There is nowadays public awareness programmes through the media and seminars. Although the majority of breast cancer patients are women, there is also a small percentage of men developing it.

So, it is good to be aware of this and seek medical advice on time whenever one discovers unusual symptoms.  Specialists agree that determining what causes cancer is complex. However, they say many things are known to increase the risk of cancer, including tobacco use (25-30 per cent), certain infections (15-20 per cent), radiation (both ionizing and non-ionizing, up to 10 per cent), lack of physical activity, poor diet and obesity (30-35 per cent), environmental pollutants (90-95 per cent) and genetics (5-10 per cent).

These can directly damage genes or combine with existing genetic faults within cells to cause the disease.  We are witnesses of TV programmes that have shown cancer patients, especially those using polluted water near mines in Geita and Mara regions.

Although human rights activists and religious leaders have urged the government to ensure investors take into account seriously the health of villagers near the mines, no feedback has been given to ascertain the safety of people living near mines. In other words, Tanzanians living near mines and are exposed to environmental pollution are most likely to develop, for instance, skin cancer. 

About 18 per cent of cancers are related to infectious diseases. This proportion varies in different regions of the world from 25 per cent in Africa to less than 10 per cent in the developed world. Viruses are the usual infectious agents that cause cancer but bacteria and parasites may also have a negative effect. 

Avoiding risk factors like smoking, overweight, an insufficient diet, physical inactivity, alcohol, sexually transmitted infections and environmental and air pollution is considered to prevent cancer chances by over 30 per cent.  Cancer, defines British Dr Tony Smith in his book, Complete Family Health Encyclopaedia, is any of a group of diseases in which symptoms are due to the unrestrained growth of cells in one of the body organs or tissues. 

He says malign tumours most commonly develop in major organs such as lungs, breasts, intestines, skin, stomach or pancreas but may also develop in nasal sinuses, testes or ovaries or lips or tongue. It may develop also in the blood-cell forming tissues of the bone marrow (leukaemia) and in the lymphatic system, muscles or bones. 

According to Dr Smith, the likelihood of cancer developing varies with age. He says a 20-year-old person has a very low likelihood of it developing by the age of 30 but the risk roughly doubles between 30 and 40 and doubles again for each decade thereafter.  “Thus, while cancer seems to be much more common than in the past, this is mostly due to the increasing numbers of old people in the population,” he says.

This doesn’t mean that people who are in their 20s or even younger cannot develop cancer, it simply means that there are more cancer cases in people, who are in their 30s and above than those, who are under 30.    Cancer is raising in the health agenda throughout the world.  

Tanzania is not only experiencing different kinds of cancer as those seen in developed world but it appears to be undergoing a cancer epidemic in some kinds of cancers.   Over the last two decades the number of cancer patients treated in the country has increased thirty folds.   

According to WHO figures, every year cancer affects at least 9million people and kills 5 million people.   The economic as well as health consequences make cancer a substantial, health problem. In developed countries, almost twice as much money is spent to treat and control cancer compared to other illnesses.  

In Tanzania very little money and initiatives are made available to treat and control cancer. Cancer has been recognized as a serious public health problem in Tanzania.   For the past few decades the number of cancer patients treated at Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI) has been raising steadily.

For example in 1975 were 48 new patients, 1989 were 916, 1995 were 1639 and in 2004 were 2866.   World Health Organization (WHO, 2002) estimated that 21,000 new cancer cases occur each year in Tanzania. In view of the size of the cancer problem and its growing importance in Tanzania and as per recommendations from WHO Cancer Unit, it would be most appropriate to develop the capacity of ORCI for cancer treatment and control.  

It is widely believed that a National Cancer Policy has to go beyond the doctor patient relationship so as to include what governments can do to prevent the occurrence of cancer, and what government can do to facilitate early detection of cancer as well as to provide better management for handling advanced cases that arise, including the relief of pain and other symptoms for those dying of cancer.

HAVE you ever thought of the risks facing ...

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Mwandishi: a Correspondent

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