Cameroon: What you need to know to beat cancer

Year after year, the number of people affected by cancer is increasing dramatically around the world. There are an estimated 19.3 million new cases of cancer in 185 countries. Cameroon is no exception. Every year, the country records more than 12,000 cases of cancer for a population of about 25 million people and about 8% of all deaths are due to cancer. Of genetic origin in some cases, but mainly due to the non-respect of certain precautions, there are however chances to be safe from cancer in its different forms, but the surveillance of cancer is not well organized in Cameroon. In this report, cameroonvoice offers you the exclusive testimonies of a specialist and victims of the pathology.

The faces and consequences of evil

Jacky is a 32-year-old Cameroonian woman. The life of this trained translator was turned upside down 6 years ago when a screening confirmed that she had breast cancer. The young woman had felt an abnormality on her left breast and decided to go to the hospital to find out for sure. “The ultrasound showed a tumor, the doctor asked me to do a mammogram and from the mammogram, she already suspected that it was the beginning of breast cancer. So, she asked me to do a more thorough x-ray of the breast so that we could analyze the tumor. I had the biopsy and two weeks later it was clear that I had breast cancer,” recalls Jacky as if it were yesterday.

The thirty-year-old asked herself all the questions about the causes of this unexpected disease for her. “It was very difficult because I had breast cancer very early on. Not having a cancer patient in my family, it seemed really unfair to me, because there was really no special predisposition. The disease kind of took over my life because I basically gave up everything I was doing to focus on my treatment,” she says. Jacky has been in remission for 6 years and is slowly returning to a normal life, but this has not been the case for many women in Cameroon.

illustration of breast cancer, picture by Doctissimo

Coralie Mengue is a housewife. She lost her husband in 2019 to lung cancer. “My husband had been treated for several lung infections. He was finally carried away by cancer because he could not stop with smoking,” confides the 33-year-old woman. The Central African country records more than 15,000 new cases of cancer every year, with a mortality rate of 65%. Breast cancer is the deadliest cancer in Cameroon, followed by cervical cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer.

It is curious to note that some people still fear this health hazard as the result of an evil spell. In the opinion of Dr. Jean Pierre Ngoundi Madong, Oncology surgeon at the affiliated hospital of Hainan Medical University (China), cancer is however a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to spread to other parts of the body. They contrast with benign tumors that do not spread. It is important to know that cancer cells are not foreign bodies, it is actually your own cells that are recognized as foreign bodies because in our body all cells grow and die at some point, but in the case of cancer cells they continue to grow without stopping and they also do not die by a process called apoptosis.

The causes of cancer

The specialist recalls the main causes of this pathology“At present, the causes of cancer are still unknown, but there are predispositions that have been implicated in cancer, such as smoking, which is the cause of about 22% of cancer deaths; 10% are due to obesity, lack of physical activity or excessive alcohol consumption. Other factors include infections, exposure to ionizing radiation and environmental pollutants. In developing countries, 15% of cancers are caused by infections such as Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, human papillomavirus infection, Epstein-Barr virus, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Fight against cancer Picture by Kássia melo

These factors work, at least in part, by changing the genes in a cell. In general, many genetic changes are required for cancer to develop. About 5 to 10 percent of cancers are due to inherited genetic defects,” said Dr. Jean Pierre Ngoundi Madong, an oncology surgeon and second hospital affiliated with Hainan Medical University and a third-year master’s candidate in the department of oncology surgery. 

The huge amount of people who die in Cameroon due to these diseases is mainly due to late diagnosis; mainly because this disease has no warning sign that will alert the patient and are mainly diagnosed randomly and mainly at the advanced stage of the disease. In addition, the high cost of treatment, the lack of knowledge about the disease, the lack or weakness of spatial infrastructure in the fight against the disease. We also talk about the difficulty of easily detecting certain varieties of cancer

“Pancreatic cancer is the most difficult to find. This is because the pancreas is located deep inside the body, so much so that early tumors cannot be seen or felt by health care providers during a routine physical examination. In addition, people usually do not show symptoms until the cancer has become very large and has already spread to other organs,” says Dr. Jean Pierre Ngoundi Madong. The excessive cost of treatment is also one of the factors that lead to the death of many cancer patients. “We can clearly say that not all patients can afford full treatment, knowing that it is a long-term treatment. But steps can be taken by the patient to slow down the process,” explains the Oncology surgeon.

How to beat or avoid cancer ?

Jacky from Cameroon, 32 years old, was able to recover from the shock of her breast cancer thanks to the support of the medical staff, but especially the remarkable and permanent presence of her loved ones. “I was lucky to have loved ones who were with me from the beginning to the end,” she says. The assistance of others is an important factor for cancer patients, and appropriate care is also beneficial, but may be useless if the patient is diagnosed very late.

Fight against cancer Picture by Anna Tarazevich

It is therefore important to “Raise awareness through all available media of the major risk factors, as more than 30% of cancer cases could be prevented through lifestyle changes or avoidance of risk factors. Inform people of the importance of regular screening and check-ups. Inform women about mammograms, clinical breast exams, and breast self-examination. In addition, the government should organize a campaign on the ground and not online on the available media,” proposes Dr. Jean Pierre Ngoundi Madong. For those addicted to smoking, and at risk of contracting lung cancer, it is recommended to start by making these small lifestyle changes to prevent you from picking up the next cigarette; make a plan to quit (set a date), watch your diet, practice keeping your hands and mouth busy.

Major developments

The fight against the proliferation of cancer is an issue of great importance for countries around the world. Progress has been made in the area of cancer screening.   Dr. Jean Pierre Ngoundi Madong refers to Galleri, a new blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer with a single blood test. “Experts say Galleri has the potential to revolutionize cancer screening, which could reduce the human and economic cost of cancer. Some U.S. health systems have begun offering Galleri as an adjunct to cancer screening tests,” says the expert.

Fight against cancer, picture by Darina Belonogova

Specialists are conducting research on the impact of chromosome absence or presence on cancer treatment. According to the specialist, “About 90 percent of tumors have cancer cells with extra or missing chromosomes, a phenomenon known as aneuploidy. Despite this frequency, scientists have struggled to understand whether aneuploidy is harmful or helpful to cancer cells. But a new NCI-funded study has shown that the gain or loss of chromosomes may actually be beneficial to cancer cells, especially when exposed to cancer treatments.” Studies have also been conducted to see if gut microbes can influence the effectiveness of radiation therapy against cancer.

 “In studies with mice, scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found that when the normal bacterial communities in the gut were disrupted, fungi took hold. And these fungi, in turn, disrupted the immune response to tumors that may be important for radiation therapy to work most effectively, the team reported in Cancer Cell on July 29.” says the Oncology surgeon.

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