Taming the Cancer Monster

Medical experts appear to have found the trigger of breast cancer and why it spreads quite fast in women, raising hopes that the world may soon tame the killer disease

 It is one disease that kills at least 100,000 women every year. Out of this figure, Nigerian women account for about 11,000 deaths annually. And there are clear signs that the figures are not about to abate anytime soon.

Concerned about the increasing mortality rate of breast cancer among the female population, scientists across the world have been busy with the search for solution. Lately there appears to have been a silver lining at the end of the tunnel. It came in the form of a recent discovery by a group of scientists from the University of Edinburgh, England. The group discovered that Chemokine Ligand 3, CCL3, is the protein that triggers the spread of the breast cancer cells to the lungs thereby leading to the death of women.

Jeffrey Pollard, director, Medical Research Centre, MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University, is optimistic that the study, which is funded by the United States’ Department of Defence, National Institutes of Health and the United Kingdom’s MRC among others, “would open the door to the development of treatments that target the tumour micro-environment and that may stop the deadly progression of the disease in its tracks.”Taming the Cancer Monster

Now that is some cheery news for medical experts and other key stakeholders in Nigeria. Many of those who spoke with the magazine said while the study may signal the desire of the group of scientist to curb the increasing mortality rate as a result of the disease, identifying the specific chemical signals and Macrophages, receptors on immune cells that are involved in the spread of the tumour is a landmark achievement. Using the genetic manipulation, Aderemi Ajekigbe, a professor of Radiotherapy and Oncology, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, praised the scientists for establishing that the inability of the Metastasis-associated macrophages, MAMs, to respond to particular signals, would reduce the number of tumour cells spreading to the lungs and reduced the growth of cancerous cells. Though, he agreed that fiddling with the genetics in the same way as was done for the mice would probably not be a viable treatment for humans, Ajekigbe however said further study, especially by Nigerian scientists would solve that problem.

The oncologist further added that in order to really understand the milestone that this research report represents, scientists would have to see it as working on targeted chemotherapy. This, he said, actually attacks the antigen on the surface of the cancer cells, so when the antigens on the surface of the cancer cells are attacked, they either prevent the cancer from being established or prevent cancer progression. “It is targeted to prevent cancer of the breast from spreading to the lungs. Looking at cancer properly it is not just targeted to only the lungs, its about spread to every part of the body from the primary side, every part of the body which involves the lungs, the liver, the bones, the brain and any other vital organ of the body,” he said.

Betty Akeredolu, president of Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria, BRECAN, sees this development as a perfect means of survival for victims of breast cancer. She opines that if this experiment succeeds it will at least reduce the spread of breast cancer to the lungs, more so it will make patients with breast cancer fill more elated and with the financial intervention of the government in the race to fight cancer, more lives could be saved.

Ajekigbe on his part further explained that cancer spread is usually through the blood stream, which is called hematogenic spread and blood flows to every part of the body. “That is why a woman with the cancer of the breast will go to church and while dancing will break the bones in her leg, and this is called pathological fracture. The bone may not show any sign of having this plague before, because it has been weakened by cancer that has spread to the bone,” he explained. The good news is that with this recent study, cancer spread to the lungs, liver, kidney and brain can now be curbed

Beyond the scientific discovery, Ajekigbe also wants the Nigerian government to do something about the cost of treating cancer in the country. He says the prohibitive cost of cancer treatment is one reason the average cancer patient often resort to begging for alms through religious organisations and family members. Apart from the cost, he said even the equipment to use for cancer treatment are also not available. With only eight departments of radiotherapy and oncology, two cobalt, 60 machines for treatment and two linear accelerators in the country, the professor of Oncology emphasised that such facilities are insufficient to fight the scourge in the most populous African country.

“It means that 33.3 million citizens are to be treated with one machine and the fact still remains that the government is not ready to fight this unwanted guest. The government should allocate one oil block to cancer in order to provide adequate equipment to treat the disease,” Ajekigbe said.

Whether the findings of the English scientists would curb the mortality rate in Nigeria as envisaged remains to be seen, but for now the consensus is that the new government, whose attention is focused on reviving the economy and taming corruption, needs to equally devote some attention to the health sector. This is more so since a healthy nation is a wealthy nation.



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