The Association of Radiation and Clinical Oncologists of Nigeria (ARCON) has appealed to the Federal and State Governments to upscale investments in radiotherapy to increase treatment access for cancer patients.
President of ARCON, Dr Amaka Laosebikan, appealed in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Sunday in Lagos, in commemoration of the 2024 World Cancer Day.
Laosebikan noted that improving access to cancer care should be a major priority of the government, given the increasing burden of the disease in the country.
According to her, cancer care in Nigeria is marred by late presentation and poor access to treatment.
She stated that cancer treatment involved surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy, however, she noted that radiotherapy treatment was not readily available for cancer patients in Nigeria.
“There are about 14 linear accelerator machines across the country. According to global best standards, we should have over 2,000 of the machines.
“The cost of the machine runs into several thousands of dollars. We need lots of investments in the machine in various states across the country.
“We also need to increase the number of centres offering these services nationwide,” she said.
NAN reports that a medical linear accelerator is commonly used for external beam radiation treatments for cancer patients.
It delivers high-energy X-rays or electrons to the region of the patient’s tumor.
The treatments can be designed in such a way that they destroy cancer cells while sparing the surrounding normal tissue.
Laosebikan, who said that specialists needed to provide safe and effective radiotherapy, however, expressed the regret that such specialists like radiation oncologists, radiographers and medical physicists were in short supply in the country.
According to her, there used to be 90 radiation oncologists in Nigeria, out of whom 15 had left the country in the last two to three years.
“We need to increase the number of specialists, as those on ground are overworked and this can lead to burnout which is dangerous for the doctors, the patients and the health sector in general.
“It requires a long-term plan, scaling up in phases and getting the machines closer to where there’s manpower to operate them.
“The services we currently provide are grossly inadequate, coupled with the fact that the centres that provide such services are mostly expensive, unaffordable and inaccessible to many patients.
“It is a complex problem, but it is not insurmountable. As a nation, we need to be intentional about increasing those services across the country,” she said.
The ARCON president noted that the majority of Nigerian cancer patients pay for their care without financial support, stressing that enhancing access to quality healthcare services would reduce morbidity and mortality and improve treatment outcomes.
World Cancer Day is celebrated annually on Feb. 4 to amplify cancer issues at country, regional and global levels, and bridge the accessibility and affordability gaps as well as reduce disparities and inequity in cancer care.
The theme for this year’s celebration is “Close the Care Gap: Everyone Deserves Access to Cancer Care.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) data showed that globally, there were an estimated 20 million new cancer cases and 9.7 million deaths in 2022, with lung, breast and colorectal cancers identified in that year.
Also, over 35 million new cancer cases are predicted in 2050, a 77 percent increase in the estimated 20 million cases in 2022.