Dr Nomsa Tsikai
THE burden of cancer on Zimbabwe is increasing as more people are getting diagnosed and dying from the disease.
Cancer death rates are more pronounced in developing countries like Zimbabwe where screening is not commonly practiced.
More than 80 percent of cancer patients present themselves for screening when the disease has advanced.
In 2020, an estimated 10 million people died from cancer worldwide.
More than half of the deaths occurred in medium to low-income countries.
Zimbabwe recorded 7 659 new cancer cases in 2017 with women (57,3 percent) accounting for the majority of cases.
These figures highlight the huge burden that cancer has on women in Zimbabwe.
The most common cancers affecting women in the country are cervical cancer (20 percent of all cases) and breast cancer (8 percent). The other common cancer in Zimbabwe is prostate cancer, which affects men and accounted for 10 percent of all cancer cases in Zimbabwe in 2017.
A lot of lives are being lost because of the lack of awareness, which results in people seeking medical attention when it is too late. Breast and cervical cancers can potentially be prevented or detected early through screening.
Early recognition of symptoms through increased awareness helps with detecting the cancer early while it is in the treatable stages. Cancer treatment is expensive, especially when it is in the more advanced stages, which require treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy after surgery. These treatments are heavily subsidised at Government hospitals such as Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, Mpilo Central Hospital and Sally Mugabe Hospital, which are the main cancer treatment centres in Zimbabwe. These hospitals are, however, overburdened resulting in some patients being put on long waiting lists.
The costs of chemotherapy at private health facilities are prohibitive for the majority of patients.
They range from an of average US$200 to $500 per cycle, which is usually given once every three weeks for six to eight cycles.
These figures shoot to around US$5 000 per cycle for a newer type of treatment called immunotherapy.
Radiotherapy costs are also prohibitive as they range from around US$500 to $5 000 for a five to six week course of radiation.
This is why there is a push for screening and early detection which help with discovering cancers whilst they are still smaller and amenable to surgery.
This reduces the need for expensive treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.It is important for the public to know the most common cancers are potentially avoidable through preventative measures such as lifestyle changes.
These changes include healthy eating (having a diet that includes green vegetables, fruits and reducing intake of red meat and avoiding processed foods), lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight while avoiding alcohol and tobacco smoking.
The Cancer Care Network Trust Zimbabwe (CCNZ) is a group of cancer advocates that includes patients, carers and medical professionals who recognised the gaps in the provision of care for cancer patients in Zimbabwe and came together to find ways of bridging these gaps in order to streamline the process of seeking cancer care.
The drive to create this network came from the International Agency for Research on Cancer after data from GLOBOCAN, an online database providing global cancer statistics and estimates of incidence and mortality in 185 countries, showed that cancer survival rates in underdeveloped countries are nearly half of those in developed countries.
This means that a person diagnosed with breast cancer in Zimbabwe has lower probability of surviving than someone with the same cancer in a developed country.
Some of the challenges that Zimbabwe is facing that lead to this higher mortality of cancer patients includes limited resources for treatment and the exorbitant costs of essential chemotherapy and supportive drugs. The role of CCNZ is therefore to address the issues that affect the delivery of cancer services to the people of Zimbabwe, starting from cancer awareness, screening, diagnosis, treatment, palliative care to rehabilitation and support services.
This will be done through creating strategic partnerships and building strong networks with local and global partners to improve cancer care in Zimbabwe.
This year, the Cancer Care Network Trust, has used dance to spread the breast cancer awareness message.
We are using social media to share our message of the importance of regular screening for breast cancer through a way that is both entertaining and informative.
We invite all people to participate in the #pinkdancezim social media dance challenge for breast cancer awareness.
This challenge will be running throughout the month of October and will end in a hair-cutting ceremony in celebration of all the cancer warriors that are facing each day bravely. We are organising fantastic prizes for five winners of the #pinkdancezim challenge and we will also make donations to some public hospital patients across the country. We believe that dance is “one of the four universal healing salves” (Gabrielle Roth). Indeed “dance is healing therapy, you don’t just dance, you live the moment!” (Miss Shradda Sharma).
As CCNZ we feel that dance, not only heals the individual person, but brings people together and unites us with a common purpose which in October is to celebrate, our women and men who have fought breast cancer and those who are still fighting. Throughout this #pinkoctober, we also remember with love, the women and men who lost their lives to breast cancer.
The message extends to us all a reminder that as we dance, we must adopt healthy lifestyles and examine our breast regularly and that early detection saves lives.
Dr Nomsa Tsikai is the chief oncologist for Cancer Care in Harare.