Experts call for early breast cancer screening

The National Cancer Survivors Day (NCSD) is an annual celebration by those who have survived cancer.
A group of men and women during the peaceful "Ulinzi Walk" last year that was dedicated to highlighting the importance of going for cancer checkup. (File)
A group of men and women during the peaceful "Ulinzi Walk" last year that was dedicated to highlighting the importance of going for cancer checkup. (File)

The National Cancer Survivors Day (NCSD) is an annual celebration by those who have survived cancer.

Observed worldwide on the first Sunday of June each year, thousands of cancer survivors around the World gather to share their experiences so as to inspire others who could be going through the similar struggle.

Breast cancer is the commonest cancer among women in Rwanda followed by cervical and stomach cancer, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health.

The disease occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get it too.

NCSD comes at a time when local statistics show that 57 per cent of breast cancer victims show up for screening when the ailment is in the 3rd stage (second last stage), reducing chances of survival.

“Sharing experiences helps lessen the devastating impact cancer diagnosis has on its victims,” says Philippa Kibugu, the founder of Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa (BCIEA) Inc who is also a breast cancer survivor.

Data from Butaro Cancer Centre show that breast cancer accounts for 40.3 per cent of all diagnosed.

Dr Faustin Ntirenganya, an Oncologist with the University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), says one out of every 10 women, and one out of every 100 men, stand the risk of contracting breast cancer.

Currently, only four hospitals in the country offer cancer care, and there are only three Oncologists countrywide.

Some advanced treatments like radiotherapy cannot be accessed locally, since only chemotherapy is available.

“As a survivor, I dream of a similar day being celebrated locally, complete with public health fairs, walks, motivational speeches, art exhibits, so on and so forth,” Kibugu remarked.

She called upon women to go for cancer screening since that is the only way it can be detected early to increase chances of successfully treating it.

“Plans are underway to set up cancer centres in different parts of the country, the future looks promising,” she added.

Immaculate Habiyambere, a member of Concur Breast Cancer Association, an umbrella group that brings together breast cancer patients and survivors, said out of 105 members, 17 had succumbed to the disease in the last two years.

“Breast cancer treatment is expensive, it cannot go below $30,000 (Rwf20 million),” she said.

Palliative care

Palliative care is medical care given to patients with terminal illness, with intention to relieve pain, symptoms and stress.

Diane Mukasahaha, the National Coordinator of Palliative Care, emphasised the need to improve the quality of service offered to cancer patients.

“Even when cancer is detected very late, and there is no cure, there are treatments that do not only help improve the quality of life, but also prolong it,” she said.

Global statistics

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are about 1.38 million new cases and 458 000 deaths from breast cancer each year. 

Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in the developed and developing countries. 

The majority of deaths (269 000) occur in low- and middle-income countries, where most women with breast cancer are diagnosed in late stages due mainly to lack of awareness on early detection and barriers to health services.

 

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