World Cancer Day is an international awareness day marked on February 4th each year to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment. The theme for World Cancer Day 2023 is “Close the Care Gap”, which focuses on reducing the disparities in access to cancer care and prevention services.
Poverty, unattainable healthcare, and cultural beliefs are major contributors to inequalities in access. Cancer is still seen as a taboo subject in many parts of the world, leading to late diagnosis and inadequate treatment, resulting in poorer outcomes. (1)
Sadly, cancer is the fifth leading cause of death in Africa. (2) Furthermore, it is estimated that more than 1.1 million people in Africa will be dying from cancers annually in 2030 if the current growth trajectory is not checked, with cancers resulting from infectious diseases being at the highest level compared to other regions globally. (3)
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified four key areas to reduce the burden of cancer: (4)
- early detection
- palliative care
- avoiding tobacco use
- limiting alcohol consumption
- maintaining a healthy weight
- eating a balanced diet
- getting regular physical activity
Early detection is paramount in overcoming morbidity rates as many cancers can be cured if they are detected early enough. Regular screening tests for certain types of cancer is therefore imperative. (5)
Treatment options vary and may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.
Palliative care is care that is aimed at terminally ill patients and their families. It is important for managing symptoms and improving quality of life, such as pain management, emotional support, and end-of-life care.
In order to actively close the gap in access to cancer care and prevention services, it is essential to increase awareness and education about cancer. This can be done through public health campaigns, which can help to dispel myths and misconceptions about cancer and encourage people to seek early diagnosis and treatment. It is also important to ensure that healthcare systems are accessible and affordable for all, regardless of income or social status.
In addition, healthcare professionals must be trained in cancer diagnosis and treatment, including the latest advances, and must understand cultural and social factors that can impact access to care. Ethical considerations such as informed consent and end-of-life care must also be taken into account. Adequate funding for cancer research must be provided, with results used to inform policy and practice. Research must be ethical, respectful of those affected, culturally appropriate, and consider social and cultural factors that can impact access to care.
The high cancer mortality rates in Africa demand a holistic approach and World Cancer Day 2023 presents an opportunity to raise awareness and beat the odds as we work together to reduce the global impact of cancer.