Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer, and the fourth most common cause of cancer death worldwide. An estimated 1.36 million people are diagnosed with CRC annually, with approximately 694,000 deaths occurring from the disease annually.
An estimated 4 in 100,000 people suffer with CRC in Nigeria. While the overall frequency is lower, CRC occurs at a significantly higher proportion in individuals aged under 40 in Nigeria compared with Western countries. Unfortunately, CRC presenting in patients below 40, and especially under 30 tends to be aggressive (resisting treatment and spreading to other organs rapidly), which translates to poorer outcomes.
The possibility of curing patients of CRC is 80% if it is caught before symptoms develop, but this falls to only 50% if it caught immediately after symptoms develop. However, ignorance, poverty, dependence on pastors, native/herbal medicines and religious beliefs prevent most Nigerians from seeking expert medical care before diseases become advanced and untreatable.
Symptoms of CRC include stomach pains, aches/ cramps that do not go away, and unexplained weight loss. Rectal bleeding is the most common, but most frequently dismissed symptom of rectal cancer. It falls under the umbrella of conditions known as ‘jedi-jedi’ in Nigeria.
Jedi-Jedi comprises a range of diseases that include diarrhoea, dysentry, haemorrhoids (piles) and lower back pain.”Agbo-jedi” is the native medicine most commonly used to treat this condition. While some people use this and do not have further problems (possibly because they have minor gastro-intestinal problems), others may have more serious conditions such as pre-cancerous polyps. Without adequate treatment, these polyps become tumours that grow out of control, causing pain, incontinence or large bowel obstruction. Read this post about Agbo-jedi if you missed it.
Considering the high frequency of CRC in young adults, it is imperative that individuals under the age of 40 get screened for the disease regularly.
- Digital rectal examination and fecal occult blood test, which screens for hidden blood in the stool annually.
- Tests including flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopies which allow physicians to look directly at the lining of the entire and lower colon and rectum should also be done at least every 5 years.
- People at increased risk for colorectal cancer including those with a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, and those with a personal or family history of other cancers should get screened regularly.
In addition to screening, individuals may be able to lower risk of getting CRC by:
- Avoiding high-fat foods, especially deep-fried red meats, and processed meats including bacon and sausages.
- Eating lots of high-fiber foods including vegetables, fruits and legumes
- Drinking in moderation and quitting smoking
- Engaging in regular, vigorous physical activity
- Maintaining a healthy weight