As Rwanda joins the rest of the world to mark World Cancer Day, Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the Minister of Health, has emphasised the importance of regular cancer screenings as a crucial step towards early detection and effective treatment. “People should get regular check-ups and screenings, as early detection can often make a huge difference in the success of treatment and overall survival rates. I hope that more education and outreach efforts will be made to help people understand the signs and symptoms of cancer, as well as the various screening options available to them,” he said during a national cancer symposium on February 3. ALSO READ: Global cancer burden growing, says WHO World Cancer Day is observed annually on February 4, aiming to enhance awareness about cancer and promote its prevention, detection, and treatment. It is being celebrated under the theme Closing the Cancer Care Gap. Cancer is the second leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, accounting for approximately 19.3 million new cases and 10 million cancer related deaths as estimated in 2020. In Rwanda, current estimates of cancer burden are 8,835 new cancer cases and 7,662 deaths a year, according to Globocan 2018. The survival rate of patients diagnosed with cancers is appallingly low in the developing world, Rwanda included. Nsanzimana highlighted that approximately half of the individuals affected by cancer in Rwanda remain unaware of their condition, often leading to late-stage diagnoses and life-threatening consequences. ALSO READ: Rwandan doctors mull project to detect genes with potential cancer risks Addressing preventive measures, he said that 40 per cent of cancers can be avoided through adopting healthy nutrition and lifestyle practices. Cervical cancer and breast cancer are leading in Rwanda, particularly impacting women. Nsanzimana noted that cervical cancer can be eradicated within two years through the administration of the HPV vaccine. “Currently, Rwanda has achieved a vaccination coverage of 25 percent for girls, with 95 percent of teenagers successfully vaccinated. The focus now extends to older women to ensure timely testing, identification, and treatment for those at risk,” he said. ALSO READ: Rwanda’s Grace Umutesi scoops Laureate award for cervical cancer fight Regarding breast cancer, Nsanzimana noted that early detection increases the treatment success rate to 80 per cent, adding that efforts are being made to raise awareness about early detection, and mammography machines are being installed in hospitals to facilitate screening. Concerning men, the primary cancer is prostate, which is increasingly affecting individuals as young as 30 and 40. The Ministry of Health aims to disseminate testing devices such which can indicate the likelihood of developing prostate cancer, along with promoting regular check-ups. Addressing the country's capacity for cancer care, Nsanzimana stated, The current capacity stands at 80 per cent, with cancer centres in Kanombe and Butaro Hospital actively engaged in testing, along with university hospitals. We recognise the necessity of a PET scan and have already initiated plan of its acquisition. Moreover, we aspire to contribute to research, particularly in the exploration of new medications undergoing trials, to align with global advancements and stay abreast of developments. Despite what Rwanda has done, there is still poor awareness by the general population about cancer prevention, and control and late consultation where more than half consult health services late. Dr. Francois Uwinkindi, the Division Manager of the NCDs Division at RBC, highlighted the escalating trend of cancer cases. In 2007, we recorded up to 650 patients, and today, we are seeing 5300 new cases. However, this rise can be attributed to increased awareness about the disease, coupled with enhanced testing capabilities, he said. Ten years ago, we had only one laboratory for cancer testing. Today, we boast five laboratories and have significantly expanded our specialist team from one to over 20, all trained locally in Rwanda. We've also implemented a comprehensive system for collecting information on cancer cases in Rwanda. Phillipa Kibugu Decuir, a breast cancer survivor, emphasised the importance of closing the gap in cancer awareness, urging everyone to take it upon themselves to prioritise early detection. Decuir encouraged individuals to cultivate self-love, highlighting that understanding one's body enables prompt action when changes are noticed. It took me a year to undergo treatment in the US, and I successfully overcame cancer. It's been 30 years, and I haven't experienced any other cancer. If I managed to, every Rwandan can as well, she said. The celebration of World Cancer Day will be marked by different activities including awareness of the general population on cancer prevention using different communication channels, World Cancer Day walk during car-free day on February 4, cervical cancer screening, and breast cancer early detection in 19 districts, according to RBC. The districts are Musanze, Gasabo, Nyarugenge, Kicukiro, Huye, Bugesera, Rusizi, Rwamagana, Burera, Kirehe, Kayonza and Gakenke.