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Cameroon Says COVID Scare Drove Breast Cancer Increase 

FILE - People, some wearing masks, walk by the entrance to Yaounde General Hospital, in Yaounde, Cameroon, March 6, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
FILE - People, some wearing masks, walk by the entrance to Yaounde General Hospital, in Yaounde, Cameroon, March 6, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Health care activists in Cameroon are visiting homes, markets and farms this month, encouraging women to get free screenings for breast cancer. The central African state says the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer has risen sharply over the past year because many women delayed screenings for fear of COVID-19 infections. The push to increase screenings is part of this year's breast cancer awareness month in October.

Civilians, mostly women, visit various neighborhoods in Yaoundé asking people to go to hospitals for free breast cancer screening.

Each group of a dozen people includes medical staff members, representatives of healthy living organizations, cancer patients and their family members.

Among those participating is 24-year-old Amin Ruth Tabi of the Noela Lyonga Foundation, a Cameroon-based NGO. The foundation's main objective is giving hope to persons who have lost hope either due to frustration, stress or ill health.

Tabi says she wants to stop people from dying from breast cancer.

"Every female seven to ten days after menstruation is supposed to conduct a breast self-examination to look for abnormal nodules, redness, fluid coming from the nipples, orange skin appearance on the breast because breast cancer is treated well and quickly when it is noticed at an early stage," she said.

Cameron's Health Ministry said several thousand women came out in at least 11 towns including the capital Yaoundé, the commercial capital Douala and the English-speaking western towns of Kumba, Buea, Limbe, and Bamenda Kumbo.

Claudette Mani, 36, says she was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2020. She says thanks to prompt medical intervention and assistance from NGOs, her life was saved.

"I was so isolated, I was so weak, looked very bad and I felt like it was the end of the world," she said. "At first just from my looks you will know that I have a problem, but now I am healthy, strong, and looking good. They [humanitarian groups] brought in doctors, educated us on how to feed ourselves, how to do exercises, to stay strong, eliminate the fact from our heads that we have this breast cancer and be focused on our dreams."

Cameroon's Association of Cancer Patients says breast cancer patients suffer from prejudices. Family members often think breast cancer is some sort of divine punishment for wrongdoing. The association says because of either illiteracy or lack of financial means, families abandon members diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cameroon's Health Ministry says screening programs with mammography can lead to earlier diagnosis, and that coupled with effective treatment, will lead to reductions in breast cancer mortality.

Cameroon reports that in 2019, 3,000 of the 5,000 patients diagnosed with breast cancer died. In 2020, the number of breast cancers diagnosed rose to over 7,000 with close to 5,000 deaths.

Professor Paul Ndom is president of Cameroon’s National Committee for Cancer Prevention.

Ndom says many people neglect going to hospitals for consultation because breast cancer is not painful at its early stages. He says people at high risk of developing breast cancer are women who smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, women who are not physically active and women who refuse to visit hospitals for fear they will be exposed to COVID-19 infections.

Ndom said the government of Cameroon subsidizes treatment for people diagnosed with breast cancer.

The October Breast Cancer Awareness month campaign was launched by the American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industries to encourage women to get regular screening for breast cancer. The month-long activities educate women to reduce their breast cancer risks, be screened and seek medical attention if a suspicious lump is detected.