Cancer in the Third World

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KAMPALA, Uganda- According to the World Health Organization (WHO,) cancer is on the rise. Over 14 million new cases of cancer were registered in 2012, as compared to 12.5 million in 2008. The number is calculated to rise to above 19 million in 2025, and cancer remains a leading cause of death of women in third world countries.

Breast cancer in particular is a large concern of the African population; scarce resources and misinformation lead to women not receiving the help and attention they need in time to treat the disease. Sometimes perceived as less urgent than, for example, malaria or AIDS, cancer is in fact a real concern. WHO’s data indicates that over 7 million die worldwide from cancer each year, 70 percent of such coming from developing countries. In modern day United States, circa 20 percent of breast cancer cases have fatal outcomes, compared to 40 percent to 60 percent in poor countries.

Although the rise in cancer may be attributed to extended life expectancy, this is not entirely true for those living in remote parts of the world such as Africa. A statement made by the Global Breast Health Initiative–located at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle–indicates the true danger at hand: research predicts that both occurrence and death toll from breast cancer will more than double in developing countries in just the next couple of decades.

Treatment is not as advanced nor readily available as it is in first world countries. Hence, for breast cancer, the performance of a mastectomy is much more common than it is in for example the U.S. A mastectomy is the surgical removal of a tumor-infested breast; the cultural connotations behind this practice are one reason why women may refuse treatment. In Uganda, a woman named Mary Namata, 48, was one of these people: initially set to have surgery for the big lump in her breast, she was convinced against doing so by none other than her relatives, who claimed this would be unacceptable and would lead to the cancer spreading. Instead, she decided to use herbal medicine–a common tradition in Uganda–to treat her ailment.

Unfortunately, Namata is representative of the majority of African women. Lacking in medical knowledge to assess the seriousness of cancer, they shy away from modern technology such as chemotherapy as possible treatment. Most often, they fail to notice tumors as something detrimental altogether, delaying diagnosis of the cancer until it has reached its most dangerous final stage, stage four. At this point the malicious cells will have spread to other parts of the body, and even the drastic action of a mastectomy often times cannot guarantee a positive outcome.

To counteract the looming prognosis of increased numbers in cancer victims, it needs to be treated with higher urgency. Basic education and screening for women in developing countries could drastically reduce the death toll, as many unfortunate deaths are accountable to misinformation and lack of viable resources.

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: Al Jazeera, New York Times
Photo: With Lung Cancer

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