Cancer has been considered as one of the world’s most pressing health concerns, killing in excess of eight million people every year, more than HIV and AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
Dr Efua Commeh, the Ghana Health Service Deputy Programme Manager for Non-Communicable Diseases, who confirmed this said presently the commonest forms of general cancers in Ghana were the cervical, breast, liver, prostate, and recently childhood cancers, with a total of about 1,000 cases reported yearly from the registries of only the Korle-bu and Okomfo Anokye Teaching Hospitals.
She said the statistics could be high looking at what was being reported by two facilities, saying at the last count between 2016 and 2018, Ghana’s general cancer records gave a record data of about 16,000 confirmed cases of the disease annually, which was expected to rise further to 22,000, a situation which was disturbing for the country.
She, however, said in Ghana, it had emerged that cervical cancer since 2018 had been the second leading cause of death among women, next to breast cancer, saying the two, kept competing with each other every year, as either the first or second leading causes of death among women.
Dr Commeh indicated that cervical cancer had been confirmed as the third most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide and the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths among women globally, with an estimated 266,000 deaths annually, and in Ghana about 3,000 women were diagnosed with the disease every year, and this represented 35 per cent of all female cancers.
Available statistics showed that in 2018 alone, an average of about 3,150 cervical and 4,200 breast cancer cases respectively were recorded in Ghana, making the diseases the leading cause of death among women, which was worrying.
She said many people were still unaware of available screening and vaccination due to the low awareness, and the challenge was that many people waited till they saw symptoms before visiting the hospital.
In Ghana “over 90 per cent of the cases presented in health facilities tend to be at the advanced stage, where the disease had already spread, consequently mortality rates become one of the highest in the world,” she said.
She said it was crucial that Ghana joined the global commemoration of the World Cancer Day, which was marked on February 4 annually, to raise awareness of the disease and its devastating effects in order to encourage its prevention, early detection and treatment.
The Day, she said, was founded by the Union for International Cancer Control to support the goals of the World Cancer Declaration, written in 2008, and according to recent studies, cancer had cost the global economy an estimated 1.6 trillion dollars annually, a figure projected to increase substantially if effective remedies were not put in place.
Dr Commeh said this year’s commemoration on the theme: “I am and I will” was celebrated in Kumasi under the auspices of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the largest cancer-fighting organisation globally in collaboration with the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) and the Kumasi City Cancer Project.
She said the modified factors that could cause cancer were; alcohol, overweight or obesity, diet and nutrition, physical inactivity, tobacco, ionizing radiation, workplace hazards and infection, while the non-modifies risk factors included ageing, cancer-causing substances (carcinogens), genetics and the immune system, she said.
However, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) was known to be the most common sexually transmitted infection, and it was so widespread that millions of Africans were infected with cervical cancer.
She explained that over 35 out of the 100 types of this infection could get into a woman’s vagina, cervix, the anus, a man’s penis, and scrotum, the mouth and throat, and since this virus was sexually transmitted by skin to skin contact, people who were sexually active stood a high risk of getting infected.
The difference between HIV and HPV were that while the risk of the former was associated with vaginal and anal sex, the later, in contrast, was spread through the intimate skin-to-skin contact, including mutual masturbation, an activity that carried a negligible risk of HIV.
Dr Commeh said although the early stages of cervical cancers may be completely symptom-free, every woman who was sexually active was at high risk of being infected if married, while husbands with multiple sexual partners stood the higher risk of transferring the virus from one woman to the other.
She said the disease takes about 10 to 30 years before it becomes developed, however, the disease was preventable with the use of screening tools and treated at its early stages, however at its advanced stages the treatment could be very challenging or impossible.
Education and awareness creation for early detection was key in preventing the spread of HPV infection, while abstinence and screening of affected partner should be emphasised.
She encouraged all women to visit designated health facilities such as the Ridge regional Hospital in Accra for Pap smear services, which was considered as the ‘gold’ standard of cervical screening.