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Pollution contributes 80% to cancer risk

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By Timothy Akintola

Inaccessible optimal care attributed to 70% of cancer-related deaths in Nigeria.

Per annum, over 72,000 deaths are caused by cancer in Nigeria. With the increase in cancer cases, there has been major concerns about the factors that contribute to the rise of this disease. Statistically, the estimated number of breast cancer in Nigeria is at 27 percent, 14 percent for cervix uteri, 12 percent for liver, prostate and colorectal cancer respectively. Ahead of the World Cancer Day, Ifeoma Okoye, a Professor of Radiology at the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and the Director for Clinical Trials (UNNCECT), has pointed out that pollution was now majorly contributing to the cases and deaths of cancer in Nigeria.

Cancer, being one of the top diseases that is consistently reducing the wellbeing of many individuals especially in developing countries like Nigeria, at least 70 percent of deaths related to this disease have been attributed to the inaccessibility to optimal healthcare. Presently, Nigeria is estimated to have a total of 233,911 cases of cancer, 184,815 new cases and 76,899 deaths on a yearly basis. Tobacco has been identified as a major risk factor for cancer, as it has been responsible for approximately 22 percent of cancer deaths. Consumption of alcohol, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, air pollution and obesity have also been identified as other factors contributing to the disease.

Dependence on solid fuel contributes to environmental pollution in Nigeria.

Important to note that there are also risk factor infections attached to cancer which are regarded as the “cancer causing infections” and are most dominant in low and middle income countries. These cancer causing infections include hepatitis and human papilloma virus (HPV) and these infections have been responsible for at least 25 percent of the cancer cases within low and middle income countries. Alcohol and tobacco are some of the commonest abused substance among youths in Nigeria. Also, the forced nutrition transition that propagates western diet has immensely influenced our diet. Ifeoma Okoye noted that these nutrition’s which include highly processed, dense energy food, overtly sugary drinks and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) laden food enhancers have been so unhealthy.

Air pollution has also been identified as a major risk factor of cancer, contributing 80 percent cancer risk, even though no attention is paid to this factor in Nigeria. Professor Ifeoma stated that environmental pollution like fumes released from bio-wastes, vehicles, generators, burning waste and cooking have contributed a significant 80 percent to cancer’s risk factor. In Nigeria, fumed from vehicles significantly contribute to environmental pollution. In fact, the World Bank, in its report, noted that 94 percent of pollution in Nigeria was exposed to air pollution levels that exceeded the WHO standards. The Director of WHO, the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinant of Health, Dr. Maria Neira, noted in an interview with CNN that the dependence on solid fuel for cooking and burning wastes were contributing factors to pollution.

Pollution in Africa has surged due to rapid economic & industrial growth.

The instability in the supply of energy in Nigeria has further increased the dependence of Nigerians on generators which release noxious fumes in unventilated environments. Dr. Neira also noted that the level of pollution in Africa had surged as a result of the rapid economic and industrial development without adequate technology. However, whilst Nigeria’s economy has experienced immense growth over the years, overtaking South Africa as Africa’s largest economy, the development across the numerous sectors like telecoms and agriculture have driven the economic growth at the cost of the environment’s exposure to first hand pollution.

On the dearth of diagnostic and treatment facilities in Nigeria, the Professor noted that Nigeria had overtime lacked comprehensive cancer treatment centers across the country. She however indicated that the situation was gradually improving, as the federal government was significantly investing in the development of oncology centers across Lagos, Abuja, Maiduguri, Ibadan, Enugu and three other hospitals. She also expressed hope at the rise in the privately-funded cancer centers in the country. She stated that besides programs like Cancer Health Fund, Drug Access Initiative, Chemo-Safe, National Health Insurance Act aimed at ameliorating out of pocket payment for cancer patient, the recent establishment of the National Cancer Research and Treatment Institute by the federal government was also an important step to improving the healthcare quality in the country.

WHO and UNFAO urged the restriction of ultra-processed foods.

A Radiology Professor indicated that Nigeria had one of the highest cancer mortality rates across the globe, with Global Cancer Observatory reporting that four out of every five cases leading to death. This, Professor Ifeoma personally attributed to increasing death rate, poor health seeking culture, superstitions, poverty, stigmatization and the low rate of oncology experts. On the health impact of ultra-processed foods, an Imperial College London-led observational research indicated that ultra-processed foods could increase the risk of developing and dying of cancer and in curbing this health challenge, the World Health Organization and United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization recommended a restriction of ultra-processed foods.

Related Link

Global Cancer Observatory: Website

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