Breast cancer has been found to be the commonest type of cancer affecting women in Nigeria and Ghana, a Globocan 2020 study has revealed.

According to the report, breast cancer accounts for 22.7% of new cancer cases in Nigeria and 18.7% of new ones in Ghana respectively in 2020 alone. Thereby making it a very serious health concern in the two most vibrant economies in West Africa and shining examples in the whole of Africa.

This revelation came to light during a recent media roundtable held by Pfizer, an American Pharmaceutical Corporation in partnership with some medical professionals drawn from Ghana and Nigeria.

The Media roundtable which attracted media professionals from the two countries, was aimed at creating awareness around breast cancer, empower and support breast cancer patients in the two countries. It also highlighted in particular, Metastatic Breast Cancer; the most advanced stage of breast cancer which is more difficult to manage and currently becoming prone in the two countries.

Globally October has been designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month while Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) Day falls on October 13. Early-stage breast cancer is when cancer cells have not spread beyond the breast or axillary lymph nodes. While Metastatic breast cancer is the most advanced stage of breast cancer, and it occurs when cancer spreads to other parts of the body, such as the lung, brain, liver, and bones.

In Africa and Middle East (AfME), 50-60% of breast cancer patients are in locally advanced or advanced stages at first diagnosis. Aside from that, over 247,000 people are impacted by breast cancer in the AfME region.

Kodjo Soroh, Medical Director, Sub-Saharan Africa, Pfizer, per the worrying statistics on breast cancer in the subregion, “We (Pfizer) feel a deep obligation to advocate for people with breast cancer at every stage of their disease.”

He was hopeful that over time, local metastatic breast cancer incidence will be reduced, diagnosis improved, those at risk detected early and advanced treatments made available for all. There is a distinct need for more awareness campaigns to regularly encourage patients to check themselves for breast cancer and better understand the disease. “Moreover, over the past decade, improved diagnostics, and newer treatment options for late-stage breast cancer, including those with different gene abnormalities, offer new horizons and hope for these patients.” He noted.

Dr. Hannah Naa Gogwe Ayettey Anie of the National Radiotherapy Oncology and Nuclear Medicine Centre, Ghana observed that “Most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any signs or symptoms of the disease. However, there are changes in the breast that some women do not notice. Therefore, it is hard to overestimate the importance of conducting self-examination and going for regular check-ups.”

While each case is unique, these risk factors such as age, certain genetic mutations (like BRCA1 and BRCA2), getting periods before age 12 or starting menopause after age 55, having dense breasts, and family history must be considered seriously.

Dr. Ayettey Anie was hopeful that with better awareness, prevention, treatment, and access to diagnostics, early detection could save between 2.4 and 3.7 million lives each year globally.

Prof. Ifeoma Joy Okoye, Professor of Radiology, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria Nsukka, Nigeria, emphasized the need for patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or even metastatic breast cancer to have the right information and expectations.

“It is our duty to encourage them to have open conversations with their healthcare teams to understand how they can be supported and how they can participate in their own care – taking an active role in their treatment can help them feel empowered in making the best decisions for themselves.” She added.

Some of the media participants stressed the need for underserved and hard-to-reach communities to have timely access to information and treatment, affordable treatments and expansion of resources and programs that address current disparities across age, race, gender, and location. These they believe will consolidate the gains made over the years to reduce the prevalence of breast cancer in the subregion.

According to WHO, breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women worldwide, with more than 2 million women impacted annually. While rare, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. For men, the lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 833.