There is life after cancer

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Cancer cases are more prevalent in Gaborone and are highest in the 30-39 age-group


Cancer is a growing public health issue in Botswana and spreading accurate information is vital so that people are properly informed in order to take proper action.


The theme for this year’s World Cancer Day, which is honored by the Cancer Association of Botswana, is “to dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer” under the tagline, Cancer – Did you know?


“Prevention should be the number one priority in Botswana, getting people exposed to messages that will educate them to avoid going into the risk factors. The idea is to start early behavioral healthy living from an early age. Educating young girls to adopt a healthy lifestyle by taking onboard cancer screening to reduce the development of new cases and to identify early diseases that can be effectively treated,” said the deputy permanent secretary of Ministry of Health, Preventative Services Dr. Shanaz El-Halabi.


According to the Public Health Specialist in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Heluf Medhin, the Botswana National Cancer Registry started in 2003 to establish the magnitude of cancer in the country by place, time, age group and ethnicity in referral hospitals.


Knowing these factors helps in planning for prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, palliative care and to trigger operational researches.


“In Botswana cancer cases are more prevalent in Gaborone and they are highest in the 30-39 reproductive age-group; the highest number of cancer cases were diagnosed in 2007 and reducing until the year 2011.


Most cancer patients recorded between the years 1998-2011 were women, although men were also affected. This was because there are more females than males in the population and the reproductive organ that is most affected by cancer is the cervix.


The risk factors of cancer include tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet, little or no fruit and vegetables intake and low levels of physical activity,” he said.


The Women’s Health Initiative aims to prevent cervical cancer, which is the most common cause of cancer related deaths among women in Botswana. The service is currently offered at two facilities in Gaborone- Bontleng clinic and Princess Marina Hospital’s Infectious Disease Care Centre.


Patients presenting at the Bontleng clinic receive screening for pre-cervical cancer lesions, using a combination of visual inspection after acetic acid and digital cervicography. Patients found ineligible for treatment with cryotheraphy are referred to Princess Marina Hospital for colposcopy and LEEP treatment, also provided as a ‘See and Treat’ on the day of the visit by the program physician.


To date, more than 4000 women have been screened. Around 30% of patients who were positive have already received treatment in the form of either cryotheraphy or LEEP. The follow up rate for treatment is outstanding at around 99% with less than 1% deferring treatment for personal reasons.


“The responsibilities and challenges Batswana women face each day mean that it can be difficult for them to get to the clinic for screening, and return for test results, treatment and follow up checkups. Our pilot project delivers a service that combines screening and treatment, making it easier for both women and the health system,” said the Lead Physician of Botswana UPENN Partnership’s Women’s Health Programme and country Director of the organization, Dr Doreen Ramogola-Masire.


Dr. Zola from the Oncology Department in Princess Marina Hospital, said that the biggest challenge they are facing with patients is lack of information about cancer treatment, which usually leads to their dropping medication before it is complete.


“Cancer treatment has side effects but they are very minimal, compared to the benefits the patient gets from the treatment. 70% of patients skip their medication and their main reason for not coming back is the lack of transport, which shows lack of commitment to the treatment.


“The main way to fight cancer is through screening, and if patients don’t turn up, it’s their loss and the Governments’ loss because the treatment is expensive.


“People need to know that there is life after cancer and that life is possible if patients complete and take their medication seriously,” Zola added.