Cancer Treatment in Nigeria

Thousands of Nigerians die every year from cancer. Though deaths are mostly preventable, Nigeria lacks the infrastructure, equipment and health care professionals necessary to treat its cancer victims. Furthermore, the high cost of cancer treatment prevents many Nigerians from seeking it soon enough to cure it. Yet the Nigerian government is improving Nigeria’s cancer treatment and making it easier for Nigerians to access it. This article will reveal the future of cancer treatment in Nigeria by first explaining why so many Nigerians die from cancer, and then listing the solutions that people are proposing and implementing to eradicate it.

Cancer in Nigeria

The World Health Organization identifies cancer as the second leading cause of death around the world. It is responsible for 70 percent of deaths in low- and middle-income countries. This is more than the number of deaths from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. In Nigeria, around 72,000 Nigerians die each year from cancer among the more than 100,000 cancer diagnoses. The two most common, and often treatable, forms of cancer in Nigeria are breast and cervical cancer.

Specifically, Nigerian men suffer from mostly prostate, colorectal, liver, stomach cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Nigerian women suffer from mostly breast, cervical, colorectal, ovarian cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The number of new cancer cases per year among Nigerian women, 71,022, is greater than the number of new cancer cases per year among Nigerian men, 44,928.

Reasons for Nigerian Cancer Deaths

First and foremost, many Nigerians are unable to reach physicians who can diagnose and treat their cancer. Additionally, when they are able to get the treatment they need, their cancer is in such an advanced state that any treatment they receive fails to save their lives. Thirdly, Nigeria has not had a national plan to control cancer or a national registry to track trends about who has cancer and where they live for most of its history.

In addition, Nigerians often do not have the money to pay for cancer treatment. On top of this, many Nigerians who suffer from cancer do not receive enough information about cancer to motivate them to seek immediate medical attention.

There are also infrastructure limitations as Nigeria currently only has four functional cancer treatment centers, which is not enough to treat the immense number of Nigerian citizens who suffer from cancer. Furthermore, in a population of more than 200 million, there are only nine radiation therapy machines. At any time, some or all of these machines might be broken, sometimes for months. Nigeria additionally lacks well-equipped treatment centers and an adequate amount of qualified health professionals.

Goals with Cancer Treatment in Nigeria

The current state of cancer treatment in Nigeria might look dreadful, however, Nigerians are making great efforts to improve the care it provides to Nigeria’s cancer victims with the help of partners like the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society. On April 13, 2015, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health launched the Cancer Control Plan (CCP). This plan sets the course for the Ministry of Health to improve cancer treatment in Nigeria from 2018 to 2022. The goals included in the CCP that Nigeria intends to reach to improve its response to cancer are:

  • ” Increased access to screening and detection of cancer
  • Improved access to quality and cost-effective cancer treatment
  • Improved end-of-life care for patients and their families
  • Increased public awareness about the disease
  • Improved data collection and the process of spreading information
  • Effective coordination of cancer resources for Nigeria”


A major stepping-stone in the advancement of cancer treatment in Nigeria is the construction of the world-class Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) and Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Advanced Cancer Treatment Centre. This facility emerged to ensure that the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer are available to many more Nigerians and is equipped with the most innovative cancer therapy solutions from Varian Medical Systems. This facility can treat 100 patients a day and provide more advanced training for 80 health care professionals. Predictions determine that this facility will serve as a model for future cancer research facilities throughout West Africa.

Even though Nigeria has a long way to travel to create a cancer treatment system on par with those of high-income countries like the United Kingdom or Switzerland. The goals listed above will take a great effort to reach. Yet, the fact that Nigeria is already making progress towards advancing its cancer treatment system proves the bright future of cancer treatment in Nigeria is already here.

– Jacob Stubbs
Photo: Flickr


A new report, published in part by the American Cancer Society, has revealed that certain types of cancers are strongly associated with living in poverty while others are associated with being wealthy.

The study included information from over 3 million cancer diagnoses, using poverty rates as the indicator of socioeconomic status (SES) in an effort to identify any links between the two factors. Each diagnosis was organized by type of cancer and by the poverty level of the area the patient lived in. Out of 46 cancer sites tested, 38 of them showed a significant relationship with poverty, whether that meant being more likely or less likely to have that type of cancer as a result of low SES. The cancers most strongly associated with high levels of poverty were found to be those of the larynx, cervix and Kaposi sarcoma, which affects connective tissues.

Conversely, wealthier patients are most significantly associated with melanoma and thyroid cancers. Why might certain cancers disproportionately affect the poor?

There are obvious ways in which poverty could impact health — the impoverished are more likely to lack access to health care and are less likely to have stable food security. However, there also appear to be impacts that are less noticeable and require more examination, as this study has revealed. The answer may lie in “behavioral risk factors” that occur more often in communities with high levels of poverty, such as “tobacco, alcohol and intravenous drug use, sexual transmission and poor diet.”

For the types of cancers that affect wealthier communities more often, the study finds these cancers are the ones most likely to be over-diagnosed. It seems that lacking access to adequate health care and certain behavioral factors together predispose those in poverty to have different kinds of cancers. What is most unfortunate is that the cancers associated with low levels of poverty, the study found, tend to be the most lethal.

A relationship does exist between SES and cancer, and this study is one of the first to use poverty levels to find this link. In one of the first studies ever done on the subject, published in the same journal as this newest report and using a different measure of SES, researchers said, “It is increasingly apparent that a substantial proportion of the disparities in cancer defined by race and ethnicity can be attributed to socioeconomic status.”

Unfortunately, this relationship is often hard to define and there are not extensive amounts of literature on the topic. However, interest in finding the links between cancer and poverty is growing, and the results of this report reaffirm the importance of taking SES into account. Hopefully more researchers will make similar efforts to examine the details of the relationship between poverty and health, including the unfortunate link between poverty and lethal types of cancer.

-Emily Jablonski 

Sources: Medscape, Wiley
Sources: OnlyMyHealth