Cancer is a new health problem in Africa that needs to be given more attention. According to a new analysis by a group of cancer consultants, cancer fatalities in Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to nearly treble by 2030, reaching one million per year. According to Kenya's Ministry of Health, cancer was the third biggest cause of death in 2018.
The fragile health systems of Sub-Saharan African countries are ill-equipped to deal with the looming cancer crisis. A whole host of issues are affecting healthcare systems, including incomplete cancer data registries, limited access to screening, diagnostics, and treatment, as well as a shortage of trained medical personnel.
Africa's increasing urbanization, wealth, and prosperity are also contributing to an increase in cancer cases. There are new sources of pollution because of rapid urbanization. Oncologists also attribute Africa's increased cancer cases to shifting lifestyles and foods. Changes in diets toward more meat, sugar, and processed foods are examples of such shifts.
The increasing cancer death toll is also exacerbated by poverty across the continent. Too many people seek medical attention when their sickness is too advanced to be treated. Another challenge is a lack of awareness. Cancer is often perceived as caused by witchcraft in some villages.
Despite the fact that cancer death rates have surpassed those of AIDS, TB, and malaria combined, there is still a lack of commitment in Africa to combat cancer. The majority of emphasis is still focused on communicable diseases.
Prevalent Cancers in Africa
Breast and cervical cancers in women, and prostate and lung cancers in men, are the most common cancers in Africa. Prostate, breast, and cervical cancer death rates have increased at an alarming rate in Southern Africa.
• Breast Cancer
Breast cancer incidence in Sub-Saharan Africa has risen considerably, from 23.3 cases per 100,000 people in 2002 to 48.9 cases per 100,000 people in 2022. Breastfeeding, the use of oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, nutrition, and a stressful lifestyle are all factors that contribute to this.
• Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is the most dangerous and lethal cancer in men in Southern Africa. In Central Africa, it is also the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the main cause of cancer death in men. Since 2002, the rate of prostate cancer has been continuously rising. New prostate cases grew by more than 60% between 2002 and 2022 in Africa. The increased prostate cancer risk in Sub-Saharan Africa may be due to genetics and aging.
• Cervical Cancer
In Sub-Saharan Africa, cervical cancer, which appears to be the only cancer that may be prevented, has a high death rate. It primarily affects middle-aged women between 30 and 50 years old. Human papillomaviruses (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, are the primary cause of cancer. Over the last four years, this cancer has killed more than 75% of affected women in East, Central, and West Africa. To combat the disease, countries must expand their HPV vaccination programs.
• Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is a very aggressive malignancy that kills over 1.6 million people each year throughout the world. Lung cancer is on the rise in both men and women in Northern and Southern Africa, owing to an increase in the number of smokers, with males having a 3 to 5 fold greater frequency than females. This is most likely explained by Southern Africa's high tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol use, as well as restricted access to screening, diagnosis, and suitable targeted therapy. Other risk factors have been identified, including asbestos exposure, dust, fumes, nickel, silica, and pesticides.
Early detection and some lifestyle changes in Sub-Saharan Africa could lead to fewer cancer fatalities. African nations must take immediate action to confront the looming disaster. It is advised that African governments and policymakers focus their efforts on cancer research in order to improve decision-making and the health of African populations. Cancer research is a necessity for Africa, not a luxury.