Celebrated every 4th February, World Cancer Day is a global initiative that aims to create greater awareness of cancer and action in better preventing, detecting and treating the disease. This year’s World Cancer Day campaign theme “Close the care gap” is all about raising awareness of the equity gap that affects so many individuals and communities particularly those in sub Saharan Africa.
World Cancer Day 2022 marks the first year of a new three-year campaign centered on equity. The first year of the ‘Close the care gap’ campaign is all about understanding and recognizing the inequities in cancer care around the world. Income, education, geographical location, gender norms, poverty & socioeconomic status, and discrimination based on ethnicity, age or lifestyle are just some of the many factors that can negatively affect ones’ cancer care.
Cancer is a major burden of disease worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, cancer is responsible for one in six deaths. Each year, tens of millions of people are diagnosed with cancer around the world, and more than half of the patients eventually die from it. In many countries, cancer ranks the second most common cause of death after cardiovascular diseases.
The cancer burden continues to grow globally, exerting tremendous physical, emotional and financial strain on individuals, families, communities and health systems. Many health systems in low- and middle-income countries are least prepared to manage this burden, and large numbers of cancer patients globally do not have access to timely quality diagnosis and treatment.
According to the WHO, at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services. Majority of the households are being pushed into poverty each year because they must pay for healthcare out of their pockets. This emphasizes the need for stronger Universal Health Coverage (UHC) that allows everyone to obtain the health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship.
WHO, through the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), maintains a classification of cancer-causing agents. These include; physical carcinogens (ultraviolet and ionizing radiation), Chemical carcinogens (asbestos, components of tobacco smoke and arsenic; a drinking water contaminant) and biological carcinogens, such as infections from certain viruses, bacteria, or parasites.
Some chronic infections are risk factors for cancer. Studies showed that approximately 13% of the cancers diagnosed in 2020 globally were attributed to carcinogenic infections, including Helicobacter pylori, Human Papilloma Virus, hepatitis B and C viruses.
Cancer can develop at any age. But as we get older, research show that the incidence of cancer rises dramatically, most likely due to a build-up of risks for specific cancers that increase with age. Human cells get damaged overtime and this damage can build up as we age, sometimes leading to cancer. The overall risk accumulation is combined with the tendency of cellular repair mechanisms to be less effective as a person grows older.
Cancer affects both men and women, although differently. Statistics show that 1in 2 men will develop some form of the disease in his lifetime, compared to 1in 3 women. Women are most affected by breast, colon, endometrial, lung, cervical, skin and ovarian cancers. The cancers that most often affect men are prostate, colon, lung and skin cancers.
In Kenya, both men and women are affected by cancer, with women having the highest number of cases. According to the 2020 statistics, there were 15,566 and 26,550 new cancer cases in men and women respectively. Furthermore, the number of cancer deaths in 2020 were higher in women than men, with 10,466 and 16,626 deaths respectively.
A 5-year prevalence in all ages showed that the top three types of cancers in Kenya include: breast (15,496), cervical (10,881) and prostate (5,833). This depicts that the higher burden of cancer is felt by majority of the women, with the sexual and reproductive health system being affected the most.
When identified early, cancer is more likely to respond to treatment and can result in a greater probability of survival and less morbidity, as well as less expensive treatment. Significant improvements can be made in the lives of patients by early detection and avoiding delays in treatment.
Early diagnosis revolves around being aware of the symptoms of different forms of cancer and the importance of seeking medical advice if and when you are affected; access to clinical evaluation and diagnostic services and timely referral to treatment services.
With significant improvement in treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases, cancer has or will soon become the number one killer in many parts of the world. The elderly people are most susceptible to cancer.
The care gap is not inevitable. People’s situations can be improved with increased knowledge and access to services made easier. Collectively, we can reduce inequity by;
- Educating the public about cancer.
- Knowledge including about how inequity influences cancer care;
- Strengthening primary health care delivered in communities;
- Addressing through policy and programmes some of the social and economic factors that can negatively affect people’s health;
- Increasing the resources dedicated to research, and tracking the burden of cancer nationally to more effectively shape our investments;
- Implementing country-specific prevention and control plans that address each country’s unique needs and resources.
We will achieve health equity when every person has the opportunity to reach his or her full health potential without barriers or limitations created by social position or other socially determined circumstances. Ultimately, working towards a world where millions of cancer deaths are prevented is attainable.
Recognizing the obstacles that prevent the early screening, diagnosis, treatment and management of cancer is critical for understanding the elimination of its related inequities. Only then can we begin to challenge our own myths and misconception on the causes, risk factors and ways of eliminating cancer, and instead, listen to the perspectives of people living with cancer and fight to close these gaps once and for all!