Cancer in Nigeria

Project PINK BLUE is on a journey to change the way Africans think about cancer.

In Nigeria, cancer leads to over 70 000 deaths per annum (28 414 for male and 41 913 for female). The estimated incidence for the top five commonest types of cancer are: breast cancer (25.7%), cervix uteri (14.6%), prostate (12.8%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (5.3%) and liver (5.0). While estimated mortality rates are: breast cancer is (18.6%), cervix uteri (16.8%), prostate (9.4%), liver (8.3%), and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (6.0%). Breast cancer is now the leading cancer death in Nigeria, while cervical cancer is the second and prostate cancer is the third.

Incidence of cancer has been on the increase in many 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 with 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 or mystical 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 incisions on the affected breasts, get 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 revert to the healthcare facility at a very advanced stage when 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.

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