Q&A: We are winning war against cancer, don't lower your guard

Friday November 26 2021
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Dr Marc Hagenimana, RBC's head of Cancer Disease Unit. PHOTO | ANDREW. I KAZIBWE


RBC's recently launched five-year National Cancer Control Plan pointed out five cancer types. Why these?

We have more than 100 types of cancer, but breast cancer, prostate cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, and cervical cancer are the most common ones in Rwanda. Cases of breast cancer are the highest due to the hormones factor, especially among women. Cervical cancer is because we don’t have enough prevention measures in low and middle-income countries.

Other cancers’ causes aren’t specific to Rwanda; they shared with other countries, depending on risk factors and lifestyles. For instance, lack of physical exercise, food we eat, alcohol intake, which exposes them to the disease.

With health campaigns having been done, what are the gains that have been registered?

In comparison with previous years, between 2017 and 2020, there has been a reduction in cases registered. We cannot say that this is a drastic decrease, but we attribute it to awareness.

The diagnosis and treatment capacity has been improved. Also is the improvement in our data collection system, where a cancer registry system is in place to help monitor cases nationally.


We are aware of how cancer screening process was introduced. How do you rate its impact so far, and what recommendations are at hand in line with it?

It is a progressive exercise. The screening process has been in place as part of the Annual Community Checkup. Since 2015, breast and cervical cancers are mainly screened among women aged 30 and above.

The campaign calls majorly focus on women aged 30 and above. Does it mean that ages below are rendered safer?

It depends on the types. Most cancers screened are present in adults ages 30 and above, but we have cancer types that affect children too. But screening is done on anybody, even on asymptomatic people.

In 2020, we diagnosed 636 new breast cancer cases. Those are what we have reached, so we can’t ascertain that they are the only ones in the country, however, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that it should be about 1200 cases. In general, all people affected with cancer are 2,605 as of 2020. These are both new and previously captured cases.

What measures are you putting in place to efficiently capture and bring to attention the uncaptured and undiagnosed cases?

Though the level of awareness isn’t yet entirely effective, which is a challenge, but compared to 2018 where only onethird of the patients expected with Breast Cancer were diagnosed, one-half was realized in 2020 and these were aware and diagnosed for treatment, this has been a success. We are trying to increase awareness through Cancer prevention control programs. We hope to achieve our target in diagnosis and treatment of the disease.