MEDICAL expert Dr Aaron Mujajati says over 600 men die from prostate cancer every year in Zambia, partly due to lack of sensitization on the severity of the disease.
Speaking when he featured on Hot FM’s breakfast show, Thursday, Dr Mujajati observed that most people had little or no idea about the dangers of prostate cancer because much publicity had been given to other cancers like breast and cervical cancer.
He, therefore, called on health facilities in the country, both public and private, to start offering free screening for prostate cancer, while encouraging the corporate world to also begin sensitising people about the disease as a way of paying back to the community.
“The picture generally in Africa, I don’t have the latest figures, but I will tell you for Zambia. If you look at Zambia, we lose slightly over 600 people every year and that translates to two people per day. So, those numbers are just for the cases that we know, those are for the people that come to the hospital. But then there is a caveat to that that those are just the ones that we know. How about the ones that don’t make it to the cancer register, how many are they? So, the number could even be slightly higher than we think. I am back tracing this on…just a few days ago, there was a statement by the Spokesperson for the Cancer Diseases Hospital, the claim was that they had tested about 200 and 300 something samples of patients for prostate cancer and that 95 of those tests came out positive for prostate cancer. Now, that’s a huge positivity rate! It’s much bigger than I had even imagined,” Dr Mujajati said.
“So, those are just people that made it to the hospital and the number they are quoting is small. The other argument could be that the sample size was very small. But the issue is that because prostate cancer is very common in Black people, the numbers out there are quite huge. Talking further about numbers, if you look at cancers that kill adults in Zambia, prostate cancer is number two, it’s only beaten by cervical cancer. Yet there is a lot of noise, good noise rather, there is a lot of campaigning and sensitisation on cervical cancer. But not much is being done on cervical cancer, that’s why we have taken it upon ourselves to actually do this.”
Dr Mujajti regretted that citizens were not well informed about the dangers of prostate cancer as much prominence had been given to other cancers like breast and cervical cancer.
“If you were to rank all the cancers in Zambia; just rank them in terms of frequency of occurrence, prostate cancer is number three, it’s only beaten by breast cancer and cervical cancer. So, you can tell from those numbers that something needs to be done; we need to do more in terms of sensitisation, we need to do more in corporate social responsibility to try and contribute to screening more men. And one would wish that more corporates, more hospitals, more clinics can come on board to just give to the community and make sure that we can screen as many people as possible,” he said.
He said prostate cancer was more common in black men due to their genetic make-up.
“Several people have postulated several things, but it’s very difficult to understand. Apart from the fact that we probably have something in our genes that predisposes us to it. Others have argued that, probably, it’s in our diet because there is an argument that if you eat more animal fat and red meat, you potentiate a lot of disorientation in your body and that it also drives the development of prostate cancer. But that’s a very simplistic view because there are several other communities that eat just as much animal fat, just as much red meat. But other races don’t have as much prostate cancer as we do. So, probably, it has something to do with our genes as black people,” Dr Mujajati explained.
But he encouraged men not to fear getting screened for prostate cancer, saying it was not as painful as it appeared.
“Most people fear that screening involves a physical examination, but what we have done is that there is technology that can be used to screen somebody just for screening purposes and it’s a very simple technology, which relies on a very common test. It’s actually done in most laboratories in Zambia. So, the presupposition we are using is that if we are able to detect that particular protein that is produced by the prostate, a certain degree, it means that you are now going to be subjected to a more physical exam, more screening, more additional tests, including ultrasound and biopsy. But what we are saying is that, we don’t need to do a physical exam on you for us to be able to screen you, all we do is a simple blood test from your finger and this test can be obtained from anywhere. That’s why we are saying that we wish that most facilities can come on board to do this as a way of giving back to the community,” he said.
“The physical examination that is done is that, to access the prostate, you have to access it through the rectum. So, if we find that the protein levels that we are looking for in your blood are that high, we will recommend to you that you need to do a rectal examination, an ultrasound and a biopsy. Those are necessary steps to confirm because the screening test that we are using cannot confirm prostate cancer. It can give us a high suspicion, it has the capacity to tell us that you don’t have it. But it cannot confirm it and if we see that your proteins are very high, then you are a very god candidate for further examination, including the very same exam that most people find uncomfortable. But that physical exam doesn’t last longer than a minute. But then it’s the biopsy test that will tell the doctor what type of cancer you have and the kind of treatment you require.”
Meanwhile, Dr Mujajati called on all medical facilities in the country to start offering free testing for prostate cancer.
“What we are saying is that because the screening is so simple, can everybody please do it? Both public and private facilities, let’s just offer these services and let more men come. But then there is another barrier to it, men generally fear hospitals. It’s a general fear and you find that when a man goes into a hospital, the first thing you see is that his BP is high. But when a woman walks into a hospital, their BP is never high. Women find it easier to go to the hospital and go and check for their health. But for me, that’s why we are even doing this because we need to encourage them,” said Dr Mujajati.