Today, cancer continues visibly to be one of the top killers in the world. In Rwanda, a surprising number of us still do not know exactly what cancer is and how it develops.
The tragedy is the stigma surrounding the disease in the sense that those people who know about the disease are afraid to go for screening because the testtends to be intrusive and requires them to “open up” to strangers.
The distribution of cancer in Rwanda is similar to that in other countries, in sub-Saharan Africa according to data presented on the frequency of malignant tumours registered at the population-based cancer registry in the southern prefecture of Butare.
According to Dr Emmanuel Musabeyezu, of King Faisal hospital, cancer is a disease caused by normal cells changing so that they grow in an uncontrolled way, causing a lump called a tumour to form.
He said that, to make matters worse if not treated early ‘primary cancer’, some of the cancer cells will often detach themselves from the tumour and move via the blood-stream to other parts of the body and begin to form further tumours ‘secondary cancers’.
He revealed that, the most frequent cancers are liver cancer, cervical cancer, stomach cancer and Breast cancer; in addition, cancer is known to be associated with HIV infection.
“In my department, out of 10 patients diagnosed, 4 are cancer related”, he said.
Cancer accounts for over 40 percent of the patients flown out of the country, for medical treatment, Musabeyezu told the The New Times.
The country lacks the sophisticated machinery for cancer treatment, but however the country tries its best to treat cancer, if detected early, and has exceeded that early stage, the patient is flown to Nairobi, explained Musabeyezu.
He added that, many more people suffer from cancer but do not go to health facilities or are unable to access treatment and die painfully at home.
Although there are different cancers, Musabeyezu said, there are some common symptoms experienced by most cancer patients like; unintentional weight loss, persistent fatigue which the most commonly experienced cancer symptom in the early and advanced stages.
Fever either due to the disease affecting the person’s immune system, the cancer itself, or a response to treatment, change in the skin colour such as darkening of the skin, abnormal hair growth, reddening and skin itchiness can indicate certain types of cancers and pain is normally present when the cancer has progressed.
Although the exact reasons why some people develop cancer and others do not is still unknown, explained Musabeyezu, and that certain lifestyle choices can significantly lower a person’s risk of becoming another of this terrible disease’s victims.
He revealed that the main steps a person should take are; not to smoke too much, follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, limit your exposure to the sun.
“This disease is not only associated with AIDS, anyone can have it and it is treatable if detected early” said Musabeyezu, have regular medical check ups is the only way to deal with cancer, particularly prostate examinations for men and smear tests and breast examinations for women, he added.
He further added that, cancers behave differently, can grow at different speeds, have various effects on the body by releasing chemicals into the blood, respond differently to drugs and respond differently to radiation.
Christine Rusagara, a cancer survivor, has had a very bad personal experience with cancer.
In an interview with The New Times, she explained that she had three cancer scan examinations because of the terrible back pain she had experienced for 6 years.
Unfortunately nothing was found until late 2007, when doctors confirmed the tumour. Being a cancer survivor this pushed her into becoming a cancer activist, hence teaming up with other cancer survivor to form the Breast Cancer Initiative of E.
Africa Inc (Rwanda) in order to increase the awareness of cancer in Rwanda. She called upon Rwandans to fight cancer together.
Copyright Cancer Research UK 2002.