Dr Mary Ann Dadzie, Specialist Radiation Oncologist, Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, speaking on the awareness of cervical cancer in Accra. Picture: ESTHER ADJORKOR ADJEI
Dr Mary Ann Dadzie, Specialist Radiation Oncologist, Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, speaking on the awareness of cervical cancer in Accra. Picture: ESTHER ADJORKOR ADJEI
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More cancer treatment centres needed - Oncologist

The two main national cancer treatment centres in Accra and Kumasi have been described as woefully inadequate for a population of 34 million Ghanaians.

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Because of this, patients have to go through a long waiting time before they are put on the radiotherapy machine for treatment.

A Specialist Radiation Oncologist at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Dr Mary Ann Dadzie, who disclosed this, cited a recent study which established that for every patient to get optimal radiotherapy utilisation, about 23 machines and four High Dose Rate (HDR) Bronchography, an internal radiation treatment machine, were needed.

During a presentation on cervical cancer elimination at a round-table discussion, she said if one cancer treatment centre, at least, could be established in the northern part of the country, it would go a long way to reduce the waiting time.

Drawing on the National Centre of Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine  (NCRNM) at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, for instance, she said the waiting time to get onto the treatment machine was about three months.

“It’s terrible! And the machine is breaking down every now and then. If you have money, you can go to the private sector. But how many people can afford GH¢3,000 or GH¢4,000 for just the radiotherapy,” Dr Dadzie quizzed.

“Since many people cannot afford the private facilities, they wait for the government’s. She added that sometimes, when it was time for treatment, “you call them and the response is, “Oh, the woman is dead! You call them and they come in with metastasis all over - it’s too late. So, we need infrastructure,” she explained.

Metastasis is the spread of cancer cells from the place where they first formed to another part of the body. Dr Dadzie called for sustainable strategies for advancing cervical cancer prevention and care in the country.

She said the two national cancer treatment centres at Korle Bu and the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital were established in the 2000s for a population of 20 million people and that the country could not continue to rely on two machines when the population had increased to 34 million.

Study

Dr Dadzie said the study at the NCRNM concluded that about 50 per cent of cancer patients in the country had to travel a distance of about 200 kilometres to access a cancer treatment centre, adding that some had to look for a place to stay because they had to be around for months for their treatment.

Participants in a round-table discussion. Picture: ESTHER ADJORKOR ADJEI

Participants in a round-table discussion. Picture: ESTHER ADJORKOR ADJEI

“It's terrible. You don't understand until you have a relative or a friend who has been diagnosed; 50 per cent of the patients don't come back, mainly it is cost. The distance, they can't come. It’s too far. They don't have the money to rent a place,” she explained.

The oncologist said on the average, a patient might require about 35 hospital visits for cancer treatment and considering that sometimes during the patient’s visit, the machine might have broken down, it did not make treatment affordable to the majority of Ghanaian women.

Dr Dadzie said about GH¢15,500 was needed on the average for the treatment of cervical cancer from symptom to diagnosis, and investigations involving CT Scan, to treatment.

“This is besides medications and other laboratory investigations”. Touching on cervical cancer vaccination, Dr Dadzie expressed delight that it would be rolled out in the country next year, adding that it would go a long way to prevent cervical cancer cases in the country.

She raised concern that a large number of women did not know about screening for cervical cancer and called for it to be made part of the regular hospital check-ups as it is done with blood pressure.

“Once we make it a policy, people will become aware and inform women to get screened. Unlike breast cancer that you can see and feel the breast, no woman has seen their cervix.

It’s hard to do so and if you don’t see something, you think it doesn’t exist, so we need a lot more education,” she said.

Screening

The Programme Manager for Non-Communicable Diseases of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Mary Efua Commeh, stressed the need to have adequate investment so that screening for cervical cancer would not be limited to one geographic location or based on one’s economic standing, but would be routinely available.

She said once the country was able to have adequate screening, it would be able to pick up pre-cancers and offer patients the help that was needed. Other speakers at the symposium were a public health consultant, Dr Samuel Prince Nuamah;  a consultant surgeon, Dr Beatrice Wiafe Addai, and JSI Chief of Party Ghana, Dr Henry Nagai.

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