Cancer in Nigeria

In Nigeria, cancer leads to over 72,000 deaths per annum (30924 for male and 40 647 for female). This number is set to increase given that there are 102,000 new cases of cancer every year. The estimated incidence for breast cancer is (27%), cervix uteri (14%), liver (12%), prostate (12%) and colorectum (4.1%). While estimated mortality for breast cancer is (20%), liver (16%), prostate (13%), cervix uteri (12%) and colorectum (4.4%). Breast cancer is now the leading cancer death in Nigeria, while liver cancer is the second and prostate cancer is the third.

Incidence of cancer has been increasing in most regions of the world, but there are huge inequalities between developed and developing countries like Nigeria. Incidence rates remain highest in more developed regions, but mortality is relatively much higher in less developed countries due to a lack of early detection and access to treatment facilities. For example, WHO/IARC asserted that in Western Europe, breast cancer incidence has reached more than 90 new cases per 100 000 women annually, compared with 30 per 100 000 in eastern Africa. In contrast, breast cancer mortality rates in these two regions are almost identical, at about 15 per 100 000, which clearly points to a later diagnosis and much poorer survival in eastern Africa.

Over 70% of the cancer patients present late stages (III & IV) with few patients having access to the limited treatment facilities. More people are diagnosed of cancer at advanced stages because so many people in Nigeria believe that cancer is “white people’s disease”. While some strongly believe that cancer is usually sent to other people by magical power known as “juju” or a demonic attack and others believe that it is a punishment sent to humanity from the Supreme Being. Consequently, the women diagnosed with breast cancer would visit traditional healers and faith-based centres, where they believe that they can get cure. Some of the women gets incision on the affected breasts, brainwashed never to accept that they are battling with cancer; rather, they should rebuke and employ the “not my portion” exclamation. After, the series of visits to different traditional healers, they eventually reverse to the healthcare facility at a very advanced stage where only palliative care can be offered.



Adenipekun, A., Onibokun, A. Elumelu, T.N., Soyannwo, O.A. (2005). Knowledge and Attitudes of Terminally Ill Patients and Their Family To Palliative Care and Hospice Services in Nigeria. Nigeria Journal of Clinical Practice, June 2005, 8 (1): 19-22.

Report of workshop of National Headquarters of cancer Registry on National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) for Nigeria, Dec 1992; 7-11.