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Dec 18


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Cancer Awareness & Early Diagnosis - Dr. Zainab Shinkafi Bagudu

Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu

CEO Medicaid & Wife of the Kebbi State Governor

Advocating Early Detection of Cancer

She studied medicine and specialized as pediatrician in the United Kingdom. Upon returning to Nigeria, she realized that one of the major problems about medicine in Nigeria is diagnosis.

She decided to set up a diagnostic centre with her husband, to be able achieve a standard that doctors will be able to rely on.

In this interview, she airs her views on her passion for reduced mortality rate caused by diseases that are curable in early stages, if detected, and for better health services in Nigeria. 

“It’s a diagnostic center, and we offer various services. We initially concentrated on the radiological diagnosis, like, X-rays, mammogram, blood, CT scan etc. We also offer echo-cardiography and pathology services, which means that we can do cervical smear, which is used to detect cervical cancer. We also have Ultra-Sound equipments.

About cancer

“Cancer basically means abnormal and uncontrolled growth of any cell in the body. Any cell in the body that is capable of growth, is capable of having cancer. The ones that are probably exempted are teeth, hairs and nails. So any living cell that is growing, is also capable of having cancer; which means, there could be cancer of the mouth, tongue, lungs any organ in the body, you name it.”

“Cancer of the breast is one of the cancers that you can do something about if detected early. The incident is increasing because we are more aware, and we tend to do things that other societies do that cause cancer. The lifestyle we are adopting now, is also another reason for the increase in breast cancer. Women are smoking and drinking more, they exercise less, so all these things are affecting us. Our doctors are also more aware, and they are picking it up earlier. In particular, the month of October is the international breast cancer month, so that is why we emphasize breast cancer.”

About Breast Cancer

“This is just cancer of the breast tissue. If you have breast tissue then one can get this breast cancer whether male or female; of course females have more breast tissues so they get it more, so it’s common with females. Breast cancer itself is usually detected by a lump, though, sometimes, it could be more than a lump but usually a human being will feel a tiny lump in the breast, so you take it further and examine it. This doesn’t mean that all lumps are cancerous. More girls have the tendency of developing what you call fibroid, it’s not cancerous, it’s just a lump of fibroids tissue, which sometimes, you might not need to do anything about, but just keep an eye on it and probably do a biopsy, so it doesn’t get worse; just make sure it’s not changing or getting bigger. We advocate breast examination; a woman is advised to examine her breast every month after her period, and if there is anything abnormal there, then you seek medical attention. For women above 35 years old; we advocate that you get your mammogram done every year which is the x-ray of the breast tissue.”

Other causes

“Age and heredity are some major reasons. The older women and those at menopausal age are more prone to it. Also, the less you breast-feed or the less children you have, the more prone you are to it; which is why women in northern Nigeria don’t seem to have much of it, because they have more children and breast-feed for a longer period. Alcohol consumption and diet is another reason for cancer. There are more processed foods in our society today, which not very good protection against cancer.”

About cervical and prostate cancer

“Cervix is the outlet of the womb, the uterus of a woman. Cervical cancer is more predominant in the northern part of Nigeria; they have less of breast cancer which is more common in the south. Cancer of the cervix is basically cancer of the outlet of the womb. It’s another cancer that you can do something about, which is why we advocate that every sexually active woman gets a cervical smear.

Prostate is a small gland in men which tend to get bigger at a certain age, but sometimes the cells become funny and become cancerous. So, again, it is important to get a digital examination. When this occurs at a much younger age, we treat it more aggressively because it can cause things like impotence. That’s why we constantly advocate screening. There is a blood test called the PSA test and you could get that done every year. There is a normal value, and once it’s beyond that normal value, you have to take precautionary measures.”

Photo: businessdayonline

Photo: businessdayonline

What are the necessary preventive, management, and treatment measures that can be put in place?

“I think prevention starts from lifestyle, which is what you eat, how much exercise you carry out, how often you check yourself, and so on. The most important thing is to be aware and know what to do. You will be surprised at how many educated, and seemingly aware people out there sit at home with blood from their breast, and lump in their armpit and do nothing about it. There is a lot of fear of confronting the reality. Management and treatment are specialist related things. Your annual check is very important. Your doctor knows which age you should be having which test.”

What is the cancer rate in Nigeria, and how is the awareness so far?

“Unfortunately, we don’t have accurate statistics in Nigeria, but we do know that if you go to hospital wards, you will certainly find 2 or 3 women with breast cancer. So the rates are increasing and we don’t have reliable statistics. The last one we had in the Ibadan cancer registry, I think is about “120 per 100,000 women will get cancer of the breast every year”. I’m not a cancer expert in any way, I just find myself doing the advocacy of it, out of interest, and the damage I’ve seen it cause. Sometimes, I sit here and people walk in with all sorts of things they are hiding under their clothes. Even the experts will tell you that there are no reliable statistics presently, and I know this is one of the things we need to do, not just about cancer, but everything. If we want to move further, we must learn how to document things properly.”

What’s your advice for the public?

“I would say you have to be humble when it comes to your health. Don’t think that you know it all, because you have internet access in your house. You need to seek help if you notice anything unusual. Don’t limit what you know to you and your family, extend it to people around you. When you go to the village, teach the women what to do. Simple things like that would do a lot at increasing awareness. There is always someone around you who need help.”

“Finally, you have to be careful who you meet for medical services, not only about cancer, but also, on every other issue, because there are many incompetent people out there.”

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