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Lung Cancer in Nig. and sub-Saharan Africa

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By Mercy Kelani

Individuals with HIV are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer.

Prof Kelechi Okonta highlighted the significant impact of lung cancer in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa, emphasizing that it is vastly underestimated. Many individuals unknowingly struggle with lung cancer due to insufficient awareness and accurate diagnosis, as noted by Prof Okonta, a Cardiothoracic surgeon and public health specialist at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital in Rivers State, Nigeria. During a presentation titled Investigating Lung Cancer in Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa: Epidemiological Molecular Characteristics and Management Challenges, he shared this information at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Prosserman Centre for Health Research, located at Mount Sinai Hospital within the University of Toronto in Canada.

More so, Prof. Okonta emphasized the detrimental impact of inadequate coverage of lung cancer in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa on the region’s healthcare infrastructure. Inadequate data collection and inaccurate record-keeping are leading to underreporting of lung cancer cases in Nigeria and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, according to his findings. Prof. Okonta, the Head of the Surgery Department at the University of Port-Harcourt Teaching Hospital in Choba, Rivers State, emphasized that individuals with HIV are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer than those without the virus.

Other cancer-causing substances, asides smoking, could be involved.

Additionally, he noted that lung cancer is most prevalent in non-AIDS related malignancies due to inadequate diagnostic resources. He mentioned the strong link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, but pointed out that the majority of lung cancer patients in the area do not smoke. This suggests that other cancer-causing substances, possibly from inhaling petroleum products, could be involved. The presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon compounds in tobacco and petroleum products was mentioned as a contributing factor to the development of lung cancer.

Long-term exposure to certain carcinogens emitted from chemical products in refineries can lead to the development of cancer. He also mentioned that the rise in refinery operations, pollution from city residents, and workplace and environmental factors all contribute to the heightened lung cancer risk in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa. Prof. Okonta outlined the issues in the following manner: Limitations in available resources, lack of widespread understanding of the severity of the disease burden, and the existing resources for diagnosis and treatment.

Skills development in diagnostics was highlighted as an essential focus.

The harmful effects of smoking cigarettes are exacerbated by the absence of a unified system for tracking lung cancer cases with a comprehensive database. Absence of a cohesive, strategic, and research-supported national plan to combat lung cancer. Ongoing challenge of a complicated referral process within the broader healthcare system. The absence of a cohesive national plan for lung cancer screening, along with a deficiency in tailored policies, guidelines, and treatment plans at the local level, particularly for early detection, and infrequent use of multidisciplinary teams for comprehensive care.

Encouraging skilled physicians to engage in circular migration can help address the lack of expertise, while also promoting the adoption of technology and overcoming challenges in medical practices. Skills development in diagnostics was highlighted by him as an essential focus, with an emphasis placed on the country’s need to address issues surrounding under-diagnosis and healthcare funding. He urged for a less intrusive approach to conducting lung cancer biopsies, followed by molecular testing to pinpoint specific mutations that can be targeted. This would help raise awareness about lung cancer and compile important data.

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He suggested that promoting newer target therapies, advancements in genetic mapping, and collaboration through knowledge exchange and peer review in research is crucial. Okonta supported the implementation of molecular profiling in patient care to enhance their chances of survival. His goal is to establish a partnership with the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Toronto focused on lung cancer research and treatment in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa. Prof. Geoffrey Liu, the host, expressed his excitement about working with Prof. Okonta due to his numerous publications on lung cancer. He emphasized the potential for collaboration between their institutions in advancing research on lung cancer.


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