Cancer experts in Ghana lament that little attention is paid to screening for colorectal cancer, leading to a high death rate for the disease, despite its relatively low occurrence. They hope the recent death of American actor Chadwick Boseman, the star of the Hollywood film “Black Panther,” might bring fresh awareness. Stacey Knott reports from Accra.
By the time a patient comes to Dr. Clement Edusa with colon cancer, it is often too late.
The medical director of the Sweden Ghana Medical Center will see cancer that has been misdiagnosed and spread, as the patient has sought out other treatments, including some from ill-equipped small clinics or herbalists.
Edusa says while Ghana does not see many cases of colon cancer, as lifestyles change, he expects to see an increase, and there need to be systems in place to provide detection and affordable treatment.
“Definitely, there is going to be an increase. But don’t forget that apart from that, you need to have a structure in place to do the screening," said Edusa. "So, if you don’t have a national program which sort of pulls in the people to do the screening, you won’t get it early. So, you will have an increase in numbers and people coming late, and of course, more fatalities.”
While fans have been mourning the loss of Boseman, who died of colon cancer a month ago, a beloved actor and preacher in Ghana also met this fate this year.
Bernard Nyarko’s son Gideon says his dad’s illness was gradual. By the time he got his colon cancer diagnosis, doctors could do little, as it had spread.
“He went to the hospital, but they were not able to diagnose the main source of his illness," said Nyarko. "They were linking it to other sorts of illnesses. It was later that we discovered it was colon cancer. That was 2019.”
When Gideon saw images of Boseman’s weight loss, he saw the similarities of how his own father looked toward the end.
He hopes both his father’s case and that of Boseman will create awareness of the need for early detection and better training in health services.
Some organizations in Ghana have taken up this mantle.
Cancer Support Network Ghana tries to get cancer survivors to speak out to encourage others to go for screenings, to ultimately lower fatality rates in Ghana, says oncology nurse Eric Brobbey.
“People think that when you have this cancer you’re going to die, but there are people who have lived for many years," said Brobbey. "So, when they come out to share their stories, it encourages others to also seek treatment.”
Ibrahim Rauf from the Zurak Cancer Foundation focuses on low-income communities, advocating prevention, education and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
“The lifestyles that expose people to cancers kind of run through, regardless of which cancer you are referring to," said Rauf. "So, we might not be heavily focused on colon cancer now, but then we believe the awareness we are creating is giving people the opportunities to adopt lifestyles that save them from it.”
The ultimate hope is that more people will be aware of the signs and risks of cancers, including colon cancer, and that eventually all screenings, diagnoses and treatments will be funded by the government.