The Chief Executive Officer of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Prof. Nii Oto Nartey, has stressed the need for health authorities to treat breast cancer with the same urgency accorded HIV/AIDS.
He said it was clear from research that education and sensitisation programmes on breast cancer awareness were not widespread enough or had not been well absorbed by people, judging from the fact that half of the sufferers of the disease visit the hospital when the disease is at an advanced stage.
Prof. Nartey says whereas in other countries mammograms were used periodically as part of the general screening of patients, in countries like Ghana it is only resorted to when doctors demand a thorough examination of the breast, adding that prevention programmes are limited to annual breast cancer awareness programmes by private organisations.
Prof. Nartey made the statement at the opening of a Regional African Co-operation Research Agreement (AFRA) Training Course in Breast Cancer in Accra.
It was organised by the National Centre for Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) and supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The training course draws together radiation oncologists, those who use radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer, from Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Sudan, Madagascar, Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Namibia and Ghana to share experiences in the management of breast cancer.
The incidence of breast cancer in Ghana had been estimated at between 50 and 70 cases in every 100,000 women.
Health experts describe this as frightening, considering the fact that survival rate is very low due to low level of awareness, late detection and high cost of treatment which is estimated at between GH¢2,000 and GH¢3,000.
According to the Chief Executive, breast cancer accounts for fifteen per cent of all fatal cancer cases admitted to Korle-Bu, while half of all cancer patients also report to the hospital when the disease is in its advanced stage, making it difficult to manage.
“I believe it is time for the Ministry of Health (MOH) to take charge of Breast Cancer Programmes just as they have done for HIV,” he proposed, and pointed out that with the increasing cases of the disease, it was justifiable for the MOH to do so.
Prof. Yaw Serfour-Armah, a Deputy Director General of the GAEC, who chaired the function, said cancer was on the increase world-wide with an estimated 20 million people dying of the disease each year. Out of this number, 75 per cent were estimated to be from developing countries.
Prof. Serfour-Armah said the GAEC, in collaboration with the MOH, had established national centres of radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine in Korle-Bu and the Komfo Anokye Teaching (KATH) hospitals in Accra and Kumasi respectively through the assistance of the IAEC.
He said that was, however, not enough because for a country of more than 20 million people there was the need to have a minimum of 10 radiotherapy centres.
He said for the medical application of radiation to contribute meaningfully to the healthcare system of the country, there was the need for a cancer research institute to advance research in radiation medicine and cancer treatment.
Prof. Serfour-Armah expressed the hope that with such collaborative efforts among AFRA members, they would soon become self-sufficient in the use of radiation therapy in the management of cancer.
A Consultant Radiation and Clinical Oncologist of the National Centre for Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine, Dr Verna Vanderpuye, expressed her appreciation to GAEC for partnering the hospital in the development of radiation therapy.
Story by Caroline Boateng