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Untold Story of Childhood Cancer in Nigeria

…6-10 children diagnosed with Kidney, leukaemia, bone marrow cancer in a month

4-year old Joseph was diagnosed with kidney cancer (neuroblastoma) 10 months ago at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).

He was vomiting everything that he ate and his parents could not figure out what was wrong with him. When he was taken to hospital, the doctors prescribed drugs for him, but the vomiting continued. However, when a scan was carried out on him on October 2018, an unusual test results emerged.

“His test results came out after three days and he was diagnosed with kidney cancer (neuroblastoma). The doctor prescribed surgery for him to remove the affected kidney, which he had successfully in February,” Joseph’s mother, who spoke with BDSUNDAY on condition of anonymity, said.

According to her, “After the surgery, the chemotherapy treatment began, which was very overwhelming and excruciating. At a point, I could not bear the pains my child was going through during the treatment such that, I voluntarily stopped the treatment and I left with my child because to me, these people (the hospital) were going to ‘kill my child’”.

But her decision did not go down with Joseph father, who insisted that the boy was better off at hospital than at home.

“When we got back to LUTH in January this year, having left there in October 2018, the doctors said my son’s illness was still at stage one and he started the chemotherapy treatment all over again,” she said.

According to her, the chemotherapy drugs, which Joseph takes cost as much as N200, 000, but the cost is not the greatest problem as there are many fake drugs in Nigerian market, which kills cancer patients more than the sickness.

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“I give God the glory because many other children who started the chemotherapy treatment with my son have died as a result of the fake drugs while some others died because their families could not afford the cost of taking chemotherapy treatment.

“We are fortunate to have Joseph, who is a happy and strong boy. He never allows the effects of his treatments to weigh him down. He has been through five courses of Chemotherapy, several transfusions, infusions, ward admissions and treatments. We are preparing to take the next step of Radiotherapy treatment,” the woman said.

For Doyin, who was an active and outgoing child, it is another pathetic story. Doyin recently fell down at school and was diagnosed of Osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer, found often in children and teens. This cancer was discovered in Doyin’s right femur, or thigh bone.

“The ailment turned her life and that of my family upside down,” said the bereaved mother, who lost her five-year old daughter to cancer.

“It happened in 2016, we were told that she was going to take the treatment for three years after which she would recover. We finished the treatment in November 2018, but unfortunately, the sickness returned this year, and it was very difficult for me to see my baby go through the pains. After the entire struggle, we lost her in February 2019,” she said.

Findings have shown that children who live with cancer in Nigeria have been on the rise and their cases mostly end sadly. This underscores the urgent need for strategies to address the problem of childhood cancer in Nigeria.

The above mentioned experiences show how many Nigerian families battle for their children to survive cancer ailments. This is due to low rate of cancer cure. The worrying reality, however, is that only few of the childhood cancer cases receive complete therapy as patients die in the course of therapy either from advanced disease, complications of chemotherapy or late presentation.

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Reports have shown that children, who consume a lot of canned food and drinks containing chemicals have higher exposure to cancer ailment. Also, parental lifestyle, work environment, air pollution, and children, with still-developing bodies are also vulnerable to cancer risk.

In addition to that, exposure to airborne carcinogens such as inhaled asbestos, certain dioxins, and tobacco smoke also trigger cancer in children.

A report by Lancet Oncology, Sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest DALY record of more childhood cancer than any other sub-region, and the global finding shows that childhood cancer is the sixth leading cause of total cancer burden globally and the ninth leading cause of childhood disease burden globally with 82·2 percent of global childhood cancer DALYs occurred in low-middle income countries which had more than 80 percent of all cases, and most of these cases ended in deaths and the five-year survival rate was around 35 percent.

BDSUNDAY gathered that different tertiary intuitions in Nigeria, including Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and National Hospital Abuja, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto (UDUTH), records at least 6-10 new cases of childhood cancer that are diagnosed every month. This means that there are about 120 new cases in a year. It was also gathered that the 0–4-year age group make the highest contribution and most children die in the course of treatment.

“It’s actually becoming rampant. In our centre in Sokoto, what we presently record is 6-10 cases per month. So per year, it would be 60-100 at a rough estimate,” said Aliyu Usman Malami, of the Department of Radiotherapy and Oncology, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto, Nigeria.

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According to Malami, “In 2017, there was a paper that said that about 358 cases of childhood cancers were recorded. With the stories we have heard since then and what we are seeing currently, there is more of rhabdomyosarcoma, followed by lymphomas in children, Burkitt lymphoma is the commonest.

“There is also nephroblastoma, neuroblastoma and leukaemia. These are the commonest types we see in our area. Another common type is retinoblastoma (cancer of the eye),” he added.

“The fact is that the actual cause of cancer is unknown. There have been no known causes of the disease. However, it could be attributed to so many things,” said a matron at the paediatrician cancer ward at the LUTH who pleaded anonymity.

According to her, “Caring for children with cancers pose a huge challenge on families and the healthcare system. Childhood cancer is fast becoming a significant paediatric problem in Nigeria.

“A child coping with cancer needs physical, mental and emotional support. Simply putting them on treatment is not enough. Cancer treatment is often very long-drawn and painful with children suffering from a number of side-effects.”

The matron said that with chemotherapy and radiotherapy for the cancer of the kidney, about N1-2 million could be spent within the period of treatment and that it takes about nine (9) months, adding however, that it could extend to over a year due to some other unforeseen circumstances.

Source: businessday

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