Mrs. Ngozi Chudenowo had gone for cervical cancer screening provided freely for her in her capacity as the assistant manager in an auditing firm where she works in Lagos.
The firm had decided to take its employees’ health seriously after one of its directors collapsed in the office and died of complications arising from undetected hypertension.
But back to Ngozi! The look on the doctor’s face on that fateful day after he had examined her suggested that all was not well. He gave her a week to come back for the result.
When she came in for the results, it was to receive the sad news that her test showed that she had cervical cancer. The physician said she would have to start aggressive treatment; else, the cancer could progress beyond treatment.
Asked if she had been experiencing some symptoms of the deadly but preventable disease, Ngozi answered in the positive.
She, however, admitted that it was the first time she was being screened for the disease and it was also the first time she was undergoing any form of medical check-up without falling sick.
At 48 years, Ngozi looked healthy on the outside but she was really sick on the inside. There are many out there who seem fine physically but are, indeed, medical emergency, without knowing it. It is also frightening that many of them are waiting for symptoms before they take matters that concern their health seriously.
Well, sorry to disappoint you; experts say that 70 per cent of cases of cancer and other terminal diseases plaguing mankind do not show symptoms. Consultant Oncologist/Head of the Oncology Unit, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, Prof. Remi Ajekigbe, says by the time the symptoms of cancer begin to manifest, it is too late.
He regrets that most cancer patients come at a stage when there is little or no hope for cure.
Ajekigbe blames late diagnosis and cancer deaths on ignorance and poor attitude of most Nigerians towards their health, which usually leads to late detection of cancer-related diseases – a factor responsible for the low survival rate.
For instance, the oncologist says that breast cancer, which can be cured when detected early, still kills over 10,000 women in Nigeria every year because many of them present with the cancer at an advanced stage when treatment can no longer help.
But as deadly as cancer is, physicians maintain that it can be prevented when detected early.
How can cancer be detected early? Ajekigbe says every woman or man above the age of 40 should go for medical screening at least once every year.
He states, “Medical screening and check-up is very important as you grow older. For men, after 40, get screened for prostate cancer. A woman should go for cervical cancer and breast cancer screening every year or as recommended by her personal physician.”
He adds, “Cancer kills and it is expensive to treat. Detecting it early is cheap and it saves lives.”
Still on breast cancer, the professor stresses that women should also be familiar with their breasts so they can spot changes in them.
Ajekigbe says, “You must know your breasts. Check them regularly for unusual changes. It is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to know if there is a problem. If you notice any lump, discharge, or feel pain in your breast after a personal breast examination, go for screening. Most of the women we have diagnosed with cancer came because they ‘felt’ something in their breast.”
Many are not new to this call, yet many ignore it. But like the experts have said, not every disease will show a red flag that it’s coming.
For instance, ovarian cancer usually has no symptoms in its early stages, yet it strikes one out of 57 women. And though it can be effectively treated in its early stages, it’s usually caught too late – when tumours have spread throughout the abdomen and to other parts of the body.
Experts say ovarian cancer is tricky to catch because most women have few distinctive symptoms during its initial stages. Its symptoms mimic those of irritable bowel syndrome, menopause, or ageing. They say the best way to detect this women killer early is through testing and screening.
Consultant Gynaecologist, Dr. Olusegun Aremu, recommends that every woman above the age of 50 should undergo pelvic/rectal examination every year.
“Ovarian cancer is tricky in women, yet it is killing a significant number of them. That is why it is important for every woman to screen every year after 50. It’s not comfortable, but it does a far better job than sitting and waiting for symptoms.
“The ovaries which, in some women, are tucked behind the uterus, is a vital organ for a woman that is still reproducing. So, if it’s going to be a problem, your doctor will know when you go for screening and it can be taken out in a woman after 50, before it gets worse. That is why early detection is key!
The experts have said it all and right. Women must take their health more seriously this year. Don’t wait until there is a free medical screening for those in your women’s fellowship or club in your church before you go for a medical check-up. It may be too late.
Instead of buying aso ebi, call your doctor to schedule a cervical and ovarian cancer screening today.
It pays to live long and well!