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Do 10 Nigerians die from cancer every hour?

This article is more than 5 years old

  • To emphasise a need for better care, a reporter said 10 Nigerians die from cancer every hour.

  • The most recent data suggests the rate is eight cancer deaths an hour.

  • But data on cancer deaths in Nigeria is unreliable, and the toll could be higher.

In a story about a cancer screening event, a reporter in ThisDay newspaper claimed that “at least 10 Nigerians die from cancer every hour”.

Health reporter Ayodeji Ake added that at least 80,000 cancer cases were diagnosed in the country every year, with few sufferers getting the right care or treatment.

Is Ake correct about the number of cancer deaths in Nigeria?  

‘Got statistic from an expert’

The reporter told Africa Check he “got the statistic from an expert”.

“I don't have an exact link to where the statistic was published, but you could search through the World Health Organisation’s website," Ake said.

Nigeria doesn’t have a country-wide cancer registry, so people working in this field rely on population-based cancer registries to reveal trends in cancer deaths and new cases, Prof Ima-Obong Ekanem told Africa Check. She heads up the Calabar cancer registry, one of six such registries in the country.

She said the Global Cancer Atlas contains the best national estimates. It is compiled by the International Agency for Research on Cancer  (IARC), a specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organisation. The latest one is for 2012.

To estimate cancer deaths in Nigeria, the IARC combined information from the three registries that are members of the African Cancer Registry Network - in Abuja, Ibadan and Calabar. It then used a model based on survival data to calculate the number of deaths each year.

The agency estimated that 71,571 Nigerians died of cancer in 2012, or just over eight an hour.

How cancer deaths are counted

But data on cancer deaths is not that robust in Nigeria, an IARC communications officer, Véronique Terrasse, told Africa Check. Ekanem said some of the uncertainty is because Nigeria does not enforce compulsory death registrations.

Another reason is “poor or incomplete follow-up data on cancer patients in the cancer registries after discharge from hospitals”. Some patients cannot be traced when the contact details they gave are wrong or become outdated.

Still, could more people be dying of cancer now, pushing up the estimated number of deaths to 10 an hour?

Many cancer deaths ‘avoidable’

Both Dr Festus Egbinoba, the chief clinical oncologist at the National Hospital Abuja where Abuja’s population-based registry is located, and Calabar’s Ekanem said the number of cancer cases they register are increasing, so it’s possible.

Many cancer deaths in Nigeria are avoidable. Some cancer sufferers only go to see a doctor when it’s too late, a major factor fuelling cancer deaths in Nigeria.

“Another factor is lack of good treatment,” Remi Ajekigbe, a professor of radiotherapy and oncology at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, told Africa Check. He specifically mentioned that Nigeria had far too few radiotherapy machines.

Cost was also prohibitive, as the Nigerian government didn’t provide any assistance, Ekanem added.

Conclusion: Data in Nigeria not reliable enough to assess if at least 10 Nigerians die from cancer hourly

To highlight the cancer toll in Nigeria, a health reporter in a national daily said at least 10 Nigerians die from cancer every hour.

The most recent data suggests that 71,571 Nigerians died of cancer in 2012, or just over eight an hour. However, experts said that data on cancer deaths in Nigeria is not robust and that the death toll could be higher.

In the absence of more reliable data, we rate this claim as unproven.

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