Dr Abia Nzelu, the Executive Secretary, Mass Medical Mission (MMM), a non-profit organisation, identified late presentation and the lack of medical facilities as major challenges facing the management of cervical and ovarian cancer in the country.
She told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Monday in Lagos that about 75 per cent of patients with cancer, particularly cervical and ovarian cancer, presented their cases at advanced stages.
“This is because in the early stages of the disease, women either have no symptoms or have minimal non-specific symptoms such as heavy menstruation, irregular menstruation, painful sexual intercourse, fatigue and nausea, or weight loss.
“Usually, the woman sufferer would have been in and out of hospital for treatment of other health conditions.
“The non-specific symptoms in the early stages of the disease, coupled with ineffective early detection tests make women present the ailment at advanced stages.”
Nzelu, a Consultant Oncologist, said that the lack of adequate medical facilities also contributed to the challenges of managing cancer cases in the country.
According to her, there is no single existing Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC) in the country where diagnosed and established cancer cases can be fully treated so that patients will not need to travel abroad for treatment.
The consultant said there were other peculiar challenges in the diagnosis and management of cancer cases, including poverty and cultural beliefs of some women.
She said: “the cost of anti-cancer drugs being used in the management of cervical or ovarian cancer is very high and most patients cannot afford it, especially with the follow-up treatment.
“Some women, upon diagnosis, live in denial; others run to the herbalists, unorthodox practitioners in search of cure, only to return to the hospital when little or nothing can be done.
“Since cervical and ovarian cancer do not typically cause noticeable symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Routine Pap screening is important to check for abnormal cells in the cervix, so they can be monitored and treated as early as possible,” she advised.
The consultant said that the actual cause of cervical or ovarian cancer was not known, but the risk factors associated with it include genetics, obesity, age, diet and hypertension.
Nzelu said that there were ways of reducing the risk of ovarian/cervical cancer, noting that “a low fat diet has been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer; obese women seem
to have higher risk of ovarian cancer and so, preventing obesity is good.”
She, therefore, recommended the establishment of a functional CCC, proper funding of health institutions and training of medical personnel to improve the quality of life and survival rates of women with ovarian or cervical cancer in the country.