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Cancer – the plague of the world

ACADEMY – Lectures and articles

Every human is – to greater or lesser extent – at risk of cancer. However, information on preventing the disease and on new, updated methods of treatment are available only in Europe and in North America. Some parts of our globe do not have access to it. 

The reality of people suffering from cancer is radically different from that for example in Africa, and more precisely – in Uganda. It is not only about the quality of life, but above all about the access to the required specialist treatment.

A hidden problem

The most common type of tumour in Uganda is that of cervical cancer. Research conducted in local hospitals shows that patients suffering from the disease remained at home until the last moment, instead of seeking specialist help.

“We tried repeatedly to convince the women to undertake more frequent examinations and self-examinations.
Our hospitals can help only provided that their disease is diagnosed early enough.” says Dr Herbert Kalema, senior gynaecologist at Masaka Regional Hospital.

Cervical cancer is mostly caused by infection with sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). As the infection spreads, tissues fail to develop correctly, which results in many changes on a cellular level. “Many women can unconsciously live with cervical cancer for years before it is correctly diagnosed,” Dr Herbert Kalema warns his patients.

“In the majority of cases, this type of tumour has very characteristic symptoms, which can be easily recognised by every woman. That is why being conscious of the threat is so important in order to be able to counteract it.”

Young people are particularly exposed

Some tumours, especially breast, prostate and liver cancer, affect the inhabitants of Africa at a much younger age than in Europe. “It is thought to result from genetic and environmental differences, as well as from exposure to a greater number of infections,” says Dr Kalema.

At the maternity ward, each month about 16 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed. Unfortunately, the majority of patients are already in the advanced stage of the disease. What can rescue them is the only centre for oncology in the country: the Uganda Cancer Institute in Mulago, Kampala.

5 minutes can save a life

According to a Ugandan gynaecologist, cervical cancer, caused by the HPV virus, is closely related to HIV infections, especially in the case of young mothers.

“The process of identification of potentially infected patients is simple and requires no more than 5 minutes. Additionally, it is free of charge. Every woman can be examined for free in public healthcare facilities.,” the doctor confirms.

If the cancer is diagnosed early enough, the patient receives a comprehensive cryotherapy – the only method of treatment for this disease in Uganda. The treatment consists in freezing all the tumour cells with nitric oxide which definitively kills the virus.

Educational campaigns aiming at making women aware of the problem still do not give results expected by the medical authorities. Due to financial limitations it is sometimes impossible to reach the potential patients, especially in small villages.

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