As Nigeria intensifies efforts to increase access to cancer care, Head of Radiation Oncology, University College Hospital UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State, Professor Adeniyi Adenipekun, speaks with Sade Oguntola, advocating increased intake in foods rich in fibre, such as eba to prevent colon cancer.
I will say that things are getting better in terms of preparation to get more machines and facilities in place to care for cancer patients at UCH, Ibadan.
Right now, we have our Cobalt machine working as well as two brachtherapy machines for treating prostate, cervical and oesophargyl cancers. One of the brachtherapy machines was supplied by the Federal government and the other by the UCH management.
Both machines will soon be installed. Since we are now going to have two brachtherapy machines, I doubt if patients will need to book again to get treated. Before, you will need about four or five weeks booking to get treated.
Aside from these, our new cancer centre being built by the Federal government, when completed, it will have three machines- the linear accelerator, CT simulator and the brachtherapy machines. What the CT simulator does is to help perfect plans to ensure that the maximum dose of radiation is given to the tumour while sparing the normal tissue. There are also laboratories where various tumour markers can be estimated to monitor patients during and after cancer treatment.
Tumour markers, what are they? Can they be used also in preventing cancers?
Tumour markers are proteins produced by these tumours that go into the blood stream of the patient. They can be estimated to know what is happening in the body even before they start showing clinical symptoms.
The prostate specific antigen (PSA) is a marker for prostate cancer. Other tumour markers include carcino embroyonic antigen (CEA) for colorectal cancer.
When it is above the normal range, one can start to suspect that something is going wrong even when they have not started having symptoms. So, this can be explored in preventing cancers.
Are the tests to have these tumour markers accessed available at UCH?
Eventually, tests for these common cancers will be available in UCH and when the hospitals’ clinic becomes operational, people can work in to request for these services.
Of course, at the moment, people requesting for such facilities can come to the hospitals’ general outpatient clinic to have a routine medical test done. And if there is something abnormal in the test results, they will be advised accordingly.
Now, some cancers run in some families such as breast cancer. Individuals with a positive history for breast cancer that come to the hospital can get screened for this cancer.
Individuals with a family history of colon cancer too can be screened for its specific tumour markers as well as undergo other tests like the colonoscopy. The colonoscopy is a special test to check common sites where such cancers can develop.
How accessible is care in this oncology and radiotherapy department?
Care at this department is accessible to everybody that comes. But a referral is more important than walking in to a centre like this. The moment you come in with a referral letter, you are going to be examined. Everything will be done.
What types of cancers do you see and treat in UCH?
In this radiation oncology department, about 36 per cent are breast cancer patients, closely followed by cervical cancer which is about 28 to 30 per cent, followed by prostate and followed by head and neck and then colorectal cancer.
In children, the commonest of them is eye malignancy called retinoblastoma. This is followed by kidney cancers and then head and neck cancers.
Many people have the impression that cancer is not treatable, how true is this?
Cancer is curable and curable. Treatable means that that you can ensure that the patient has some degree of good health, even though the disease might not be completely destroyed in the body of that patient.
Curable means that you can actually eliminate the cancer cells to a critical level in which that patient may never have issues with that cancer in his or her lifetime.
But curability depends on the type of the cancer and also what stage at which it was picked. As long as the cancer is picked early, the chance of curability is very high.
Unfortunately, in this environment, above 70 per cent of our cancer patients present themselves for examination in late stages when cure is almost impossible. That gives people the impression that cancer is not curable. Sadly, by the time they come in, it is almost too late to do anything.
People talk about some particular diets that can prevent or treat cancer. From an expert’s perspective, how true is this?
There are lots of exaggerations on diets that prevent or treat cancers. It might not be completely impossible because about five per cent of cancers regress spontaneously on their own. So, people just assume that it was the diet that had led to the regression.
I am not against supplements to promote health. That can promote immunity and this is very important when it comes to cancers. But most of the time, people go very far, thinking that if they take these herbs, it will take care of the cancer.
Plant based diet cancer cure or claims that making the body alkaline will make a person cancer free, despite people’s testimonies, have not been scientifically proven to work.
I know that we do not have 100 per cent solution to cancer world over. For instance, we always say that for stage one cancer, over 80 to 90 per cent can be cured.
What is your advice on cancer prevention?
First, we must know that cancer is real, and it is increasing in incidence all over the world. So, if you know you have the risk, you must ensure that you see your doctor regularly.
For instance, if you have a close family member with breast cancer, even if you are a man, you stand a risk of having breast cancer. About one to two per cent of men have breast cancer.
Individuals must learn to do simple examinations like self breast examination to identify lumps or any abnormality. If you observe that you are losing weight despite not watching your weight or being sick, go and find out. If coughing beyond three months, and despite treatment, it might not be tuberculosis. It might actually be the beginning of a lung cancer.
If you notice blood in your stool or urine, see a doctor. It could be the beginning of a colorectal cancer and not hemorrhoid or a problem in the bladder. If you also observe that you do not empty your bowels daily, do not think that it is good. It could also be the beginning of colonic problem. So, make sure you eat lots of roughages.
For instance, many people run away from eating eba, a cheap and good source roughage that can ensure that they empty their bowels daily. But individuals can reduce their risk of colon cancer by eating eba on a regular basis instead of those highly processed foods.
Any strange mass in your body might not be a cancer, make sure it is checked. Even if it is benign, please remove it. Studies have shown that those benign masses over period of years tend to turn to cancer.
Generally, it is also advisable to cut down on intake of alcoholic drinks and sugar; stop smoking, have adequate rest, avoid overworking, take appropriate vaccines and eat balanced diet.