The number of reported cases of cancer in Namibia is on the rise. Statistics show a 29% increase over the last five years according to the Cancer Association of Namibia, with 1625 cases being reported in 2006, and 3092 cases in 2012, and 3000 new cases reported between 2013-2014 alone.
Skin cancer has primarily been the leading type of cancer among Namibians, primarily due to exposure to the sun and the high rate of people with albinism, making them especially prone to skin cancer due to a lack of pigmentation. Skin cancer was the number one type of cancer four out of the five last years; however, breast cancer has replaced it at the top of the list over the last year. In 2006, 229 cases of breast cancer were reported compared to 458 in 2012, almost a 100% increase. Cervical cancer and prostate cancer are also on the rise at alarming rates, with 213 cases reported in 2010, and 292 cases of cervical cancer reported in 2014, and 216 cases of prostate cancer reported in 2010 to 271 in 2014.
There is no obvious cause or external factor that indicates a reason for the rise in cancer cases. Two factors are believed to be contributing to the increased rates. Cancer has carried a stigma among Namibians as being an “old man’s disease” or a “white man’s disease,” and is widely believed to be spread by kissing or touching. Patients diagnosed with cancer have often been treated as outcasts, causing most to not disclose their illness or seek medical treatment.
Secondly, the Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN) has worked diligently to create a national registry of reported cancer cases and has worked closely with health professionals to encourage them to report each diagnosis to the registry to gain more accurate numbers. This is believed to be a key contributing factor to the rise in number of cases, that more cases are being reported than ever before, where professionals historically would not report diagnoses due to confidentiality and the stigma attached to labeling someone with cancer. CAN has also focused largely on educating the public about what cancer is, and what preventative measures can be taken. Cervical cancer for instance is 80% preventable with routine health check-ups. Educating women about sexual health and immunizing for human papillomavirus (HPV) can greatly decrease the rate of cervical cancer, as well as monitoring women who have difficult childbirth, early sexual activity or STDs, all of which are leading causes of cervical cancer. Educating women has also helped to detect breast cancer, which may be contributing to the seeming rise in breast cancer cases.
While no one is immune from cancer, those in lower socioeconomic classes are more prone to dying from cancer due to lack of education, lack of healthcare, and lack of support. To combat this issue, CAN’s CEO Rolf Hansen reports that between March 2015 and January 2016, CAN spent N$3 Million assisting cancer patients. To further break the stigma, CAN has published a booklet to be distributed to Namibians to educate them on prevention and early detection, in hopes to stop this rise in cancer patients.