Underfunding and information gaps are worsening the situation.
Cancer experts told The Herald yesterday that the disease was fast becoming the leading cause of death.
They said funding for cancer response was minimal, resulting in diagnosis, treatment and management becoming prohibitive for patients.
Cancer Association of Zimbabwe information, research and evaluation officer Mr Lovemore Makurirofa said according to statistics from the National Cancer Registry, there are 5 000 new cases every year.
Latest statistics for 2014 showed that 2 474 people died, while an additional 7 018 new cases were recorded.
Mr Makurirofa said these figures only related to cases that were recorded in health institutions, but most patients could be dying from home as they fail to access health services owing to prohibitive costs.
“Cancer services are very expensive and centralised making it difficult for ordinary Zimbabweans to access them easily. For instance, a cancer diagnoses can only be done in a laboratory and the minimum cost is around $40 depending on the cancer type whereas it is free to diagnose other diseases such as HIV.
“Its treatment and management is also expensive and patients have to foot other ancillary costs such as food, travelling and accommodation because treatment services are centralised to central hospitals,” said Mr Makurirofa.
He said these circumstances made cancer services difficult to access for ordinary Zimbabweans resulting in the majority of them turning to other options outside medical care.
Mr Makurirofa said there was also serious information gap on factors that increase the risk of cancer, preventive options and the importance of screening.
“People are also dying because of lack of knowledge, knowledge to know healthy lifestyles to follow, knowledge to know the importance of screening early and knowledge to know what to do should they suspect of having cancer,” said Mr Makurirofa.
He said there was also need for Government to make sure that products on the market do not increae people’s risk to cancers.
“Government must make sure that policies they put in place are enforced to protect the people. For instance, public smoking is illegal in Zimbabwe but we still see people smoking in public posing serious health risks to both the smoker and those around them,” he said.
Zimbabwe Medical Association secretary general Dr Shingi Bopoto said his organisation was encouraging people to go for cancer screening as early detection saves lives.
Dr Bopoto said most cancers such as prostate, breast, cervical and lung were preventable and treatable if people change lifestyles.
“As ZiMA we are doing our part by ensuring that the public has the required information to prevent and diagnose cancer early. Late diagnosis results in poor treatment outcomes and is even more expensive for the patient,” said Dr Bopoto.
He said doctors were also concerned by the increase of some cancer types, which traditionally used to affect adults above 40 years but are now affecting young people in their teens.
Cancer expert Dr Anna Mary Nyakabao further attributed the low turnout by people for cancer screening to fear of being diagnosed of the disease.
“The fact that cancer is now a worse off disease than HIV scare away people from seeking medical services. There is now a stigma tag to cancer, which need to be addressed to ensure cancer is diagnosed and treated early,” said Dr Nyakabao.
Health and Child Care Secretary Dr Gerald Gwinji acknowledged that the burden of cancer was increasing in the country while that of other diseases such as HIV was going down.
He said decreased cases of HIV were attributable to availability of antiretroviral diseases, resulting in the change of demographics of conditions such as cancers and other non communicable diseases.
“The effectiveness of the AIDS levy naturally forms a rallying point for ideas to have specific disease groupings but that is a national decision at the end. However, looking at it holistically, one would perhaps motivate for adequate health sector funding,” said Dr Gwinji.
Dr Gwinji said while cancer treatment sours, Government was working on making at least the commonly used medicines available in public health institutions.
He said the radiotherapy and nuclear medicine centres at Parirenyatwa and Mpilo central hospitals were now fully refurbished and functional.
Dr Gwinji said Government rolled out the vaccination of young girls to prevent cervical cancer.