Prostate, breast, cervical cancers high in Uganda

Feb 05, 2018

Ddungu says what increases the low recovery rate is that 80% of cancer patients who go for treatment are usually at the stage when it is difficult for them to get cured.

PIC: With the new cancer machine, the doctors hope that better treatment will be given to patients to reduce the side-effects of the medication


KAMPALA - Over 4,000 new cancer cases were registered in Uganda last year, with prostate cancer ranking high in men whereas breast and cervical cancer was leading in women.

The statistics were delivered by Dr Henry Ddungu, a consultant, hematologist/oncologist at the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) Mulago Hospital as Uganda marked World Cancer Day on Sunday.

Ddungu says unlike prostate cancer, many of the cancers including cervical and liver cancer, stem from mainly infections such as hepatitis and the human papilloma virus (HPV).

He says important to note is that cancer does not come from a single occurrence, but it is a multi-factorial occurrence.

It is a lifestyle disease too: "Just imagine if you have many sexual partners, you increase your chances of developing cancer through infections," he explains.

"Lifestyle habits such as smoking, lack of exercises and poor eating can also lead to cancer," Dungu says.

But what worries Ddungu the most, is the state of hopelessness that has been associated with cancer in Uganda.

He says of the 300 people who develop cancer every year, few go for treatment.

"Some people discourage students from using cancers drug given at the hospital and instead give them their concoctions which do not help," he says.

Ddungu added that what increases the low recovery rates is that 80% of cancer patients who go for treatment are usually at the stage when it is difficult for them to get cured.

Why the challenge

Mathew Kabalega, the head of communication at the Uganda Cancer Society, says cancer is still a grey area for many people.

"There is not a lot of information out there. People think when they get cancer, their life is over but that is not true. There is need to create awareness that with early detection and treatment, they can be healed of cancer," he says.

For Uganda, out of every 100,000 people in Uganda, 300 have cancer. But, on March 27, 2016, Uganda's only radiotherapy machine broke down beyond repair.

In the absence of the radiotherapy machine, patients were advised to travel to Nairobi, in neighbouring Kenya for treatment.

Those who could not afford were changed to chemotherapy, surgery and palliative care. This sparked uproar among Ugandans.

The breakdown was seen as symbolising a deterioration of Uganda's medical services and the Government had to purchase a new modern Cobalt 60 radiotherapy machine. 

Ddungu says the new modern cobalt 60 radiotherapy cancer machine, though working perfectly, is overwhelmed.

Improving treatment
According to Ddungu, although they are still using old-fashioned treatment, UCI is moving towards improved treatments for cancer.

This includes targeted therapy, which helps stop cancer from growing and spreading in the body. There is also immunotherapy, which boosts the body's natural defences to fight the cancer.

Ddungu explains these therapies are better and eliminate side-effects such as loss of hair during treatment.

He says some of these treatments are already in the country and there are also plans and efforts to immunise children to eliminate cancers caused through infections in years ahead.

The World Health Organisation states that globally, nearly one in six deaths are due to cancer and approximately 70% of deaths from cancer occur in low and middle-income countries.

Ddungu says UCI is also in the process of getting more cancer machines and there are also plans for regional cancer centres to manage cancer screening and treatment better.

There is a centre in Mbarara, Arua, Gulu and Mbale that are being developed and equipped to become regional Cancer centres.

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