Almost 400 delegates and experts from across the world, the vast majority from Africa, will meet from today (Wednesday) to discuss issues of prevention, early diagnosis, treatment, management and palliation of cancer.

‘€œVery few people realize that cancer is a very important health problem in Africa. It has never been the focal point and has been seriously neglected,’€ says University of Cape Town Professor Lynette Denny.

Denny, a Senior Specialist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Groote Schuur Hospital, is hailed as one of the continent’€™s foremost cancer experts and has been at the forefront of trying to find affordable cervical cancer screening methods that can be implemented in rural and under resourced settings.

‘€œThere are only five countries on the continent that have palliative care for cancer patients or allow the dispensing of oral morphine for pain,’€ said Denny, one of the co-organisers of the conference that ends of Sunday.

Because of poor healthcare infrastructure on the continent, many cancer patients present with advance stage disease or there are simply no facilities to treat patients.

‘€œWe are trying to put cancer on the African health agenda and find African solutions for our problems,’€ said Denny.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women in Africa and this is mainly because they do not have access to regular pap smears (the main screening method to pick up early signs of cervical cancer).

‘€œThere are no national screening programmes. In the United Kingdom 87 percent of women receive a pap smear every three years,’€ said Denny. This intervention renders cervical cancer rare in developed countries.

Denny speaks passionately about the fact that people with cancer need not die suffering. ‘€œThere are cheap, easy, accessible means of pain care that can be introduced,’€ said Denny. According to Denny oral morphine is very safe and listed by the World Health Organisation as an essential drug. It is cheap and low technology is needed to mix it.

‘€œIt is nonsense that it creates drug addicts. It is a good way to treat chronic pain and could be administered by homebased carers,’€ added Denny. However, few patients access this drug, suffering and dying in terrible pain.

She said it was critical for African governments to understand the burden of cancer on the continent and the projected increase in the future.

South Africa, with the best cancer care services on the continent, is also struggling to cope with the numbers. Groote Schuur Hospital has a two to three month waiting list for cancer-related surgery. ‘€œSome countries have no surgery at all,’€ Denny pointed out.

More information on the conference can be found at www.aortic2007.org The AORTIC website is at www.aortic.org (go to the Africa).

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