Posted on October 4, 2017
A few weeks ago, Nigerians were in grief, following the story of a United Kingdom-based couple that broke online.
Omena and Makeda Ubairo, both aged 38, lost the battle to bowel cancer within an interval of a month, leaving behind five children between the ages of seven and 19.
Another lady, Amarachi, discovered that she was having pain on the right side of her breast, but assumed that the pain was a postnatal effect. But she kept feeling the pain, even after her child had stopped breastfeeding. Confused, Amarachi started attending church devotions and seeking herbs to treat the stubborn pain. She visited a hospital and was referred to a specialist for a series of tests, even as the breast had started emitting some smelling fluids. She also began to lose weight. Amarachi was eventually diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. She died early this month.
Experts have, for long emphasised cancer awareness. The disease is one of the top leading causes of death worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 60% of the world’s new cancer cases occur in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, just as 70% of the world’s cancer deaths occur in these regions.
The reporter recently met with a cancer specialist, Professor Remi Ajekigbe. A Professor of Radiotherapy and Oncology at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Ajekigbe informed that he went into the field of Oncology 35 years ago because of his passion for the fight against cancer. In his words, he has since been traversing the world, fighting the cause.
“The treatment of cancer depends on the patient,” he informed. “The earlier the patient reports for treatment after detection, the higher the chances of survival and vice versa.”
The professor stated that cancer was the only disease in the world that spreads from the primary sight to any other part of the body, damaging wherever it grips, be it the brain, kidney, lungs or even bones. He explained further that cancer did not kill from the primary sight, but rather starts the killing from the secondary sights it spreads to.
Ajekigbe said: “Before God, we are all equal and before cancer we are also all equal. Whatever a man thinks he is, is in his mind.”
He described cancer as an abnormal growth in the body. In his words, the cells that make up the tissue which makes the organs and then the body, at times grow abnormally out of proportion. He explained that even when the stimulus that caused the growth is removed, there are cases where the growth persists and then leads to cancer.
The professor advised that human beings should be able to take note of every change in their bodies, except three parts which he noted are more of dead tissues. These, he said, are the hair, nails and teeth. He informed that every other part of the human body should be given adequate care and concern as cancer appears in bizarre forms. He mentioned some symptoms of cancer as the thickening of a part of the body, a painless lump particularly in the breast, lip, or tongue, bleeding from a body orifice, which is a natural hole in the human body like the nose, ear, mouth, anus and genitals. This unusual bleeding, however, excludes a woman’s menstrual cycle, he explained. He also stated that adults aged forty and above should take note of a change in their bowel habits. He informed a change in bowel habits is usually an exhibition of colon cancer. He mentioned that the epitome of the change does not matter as a simple hoarseness or change in voice for more than two weeks can be laryngeal cancer.
The professor said he put a lot of pressure on women regarding breast cancer, as it has been the most rampant cancer so far. He said women should examine their breasts properly for lumps and also stated that there were cases where the lump would exist between eight months and ten years and the individual would not feel it. Some women, he stated, might assume that the growth is due to their menstrual cycle. But he said this could not be further from the truth. He urged women to report to the hospital as soon as a lump is detected. He emphasised the essence of pain in the body, saying that pain draws attention to the area in need of a medical response. He said the cancer was particularly difficult, as the lump is painless.
Ajekigbe told the reporter that doctors used a mammogram to check for early signs of breast cancer mostly in cases where the lump can’t be felt.
According to the professor, cancer has become more rampant these days compared to when he just went into the field in 1982. He said that the change in lifestyles over the years is a great cause. These, he noted, can be broken into three aspects – foods, fluids and friends – FFF.
He explained that the foods that people now take most times contain a lot of chemicals, as even at the initial stage of cropping, fertilizers are added to aid the crop in harvesting. He also mentioned the seasoning of food and the preservatives in canned foods, insisting that all of them have chemicals and can’t be compared to when fibre was a whole meal. He stated that after taking such foods, drinks, sodas and alcohol are also consumed, which are mostly chemical fluids. The last F, friends, he informed, could be defined as the bad decisions made as a result of peer pressure, such as smoking, drinking, and other decisions opposing a healthy lifestyle.
The cancer expert said he was in contact with a lot of cancer survivors that are today living healthy lives.
“Cancer proves difficult for us here because people don’t come early. Cancer that can spread to all parts of the body can cause a Stage 4 cancer, and when we have such patients, the survival is very slim, so the earlier the patient comes for treatment, the better. Stage 1 survival is higher than stage 2, and stage 2 than 3,” he said.
He explained that Stage 4 cancer is a late stage and this means the patient has wasted a lot of time and at this stage, the cancer would have spread to other parts of the body. Treatment is still rendered to such patients but most times the cancer wins. He stated that there were even cases of breast cancer where the breast would be discharging fluids and would still be a locally advanced disease, meaning that the cancer is yet to spread and can still be treated.
“There is awareness for cancer but it is never too much,” the professor said. He informed that he educated his patients, their family and other inquisitive persons about cancer, particularly if a family member has a history with cancer because cancers like breast and prostate can be hereditary. He stated that the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) did a great job with their cancer awareness programmes.
“But as individuals, we should educate ourselves and never view an unusual change of the body as pintsized,” he said.