Cancer and Tobacco Control

Cancer may be under-diagnosed in prisoners

GBV convict talks trauma, anger,
Written by Ayanda Mkhwanazi

Prisoner Lucas Mngadi* died within four months of being diagnosed with colon cancer after complaining for months about pain.

*Lucas's mom says her son endured months of pain before he was diagnosed with colon cancer

Lucas’s mom says her son endured months of pain before he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Only 46 prisoners nationally are currently being treated for cancer, according to the Department of Correctional Services – far below the percentage likely to have the disease.

Mngadi, who was serving a life sentence for murder, was finally admitted to Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto after months of complaining about pains in his buttocks.

He was first diagnosed with piles and given painkillers.

“I remember that day very well, it was so cold I brought him a blanket at the hospital,” said his mother, Busi.* “Lucas’s pain got him to a point where he could no longer sit comfortably he had to use a pillow to cushion himself.”

Finally, when he could no longer handle the pain, officials decided to have him admitted to hospital for a further check up.

[quote float= right]“At one point he needed the toilet badly, but the guard had disappeared. My son could not move, eventually he messed himself”

Lucas had served 13 years of his life sentence in one of Gauteng’s prisons when he was diagnosed with colon cancer around June last year.

His distraught mother told Health-e News that her son was allegedly ill-treated by some of the warders who would often be nowhere to be found when he needed assistance. And that they took time to act as he had been complaining of his discomfort for months.

“He had gone for an operation at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, and he was so weak he could hardly walk on his own but he was still shackled,” explained Mngadi.

“At one point he needed the toilet badly but the guard had disappeared. My son could not move, eventually he messed himself”.

According to the Department of Correctional Services, 46 offenders are being treated for cancer.

The majority – 33 – are being treated at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital.

Prisoners could be going undiagnosed

The total population in prisons is over 150 000, which means that only 0.03 percent are on cancer treatment. Director of People Living With Cancer Linda Greef says regular check-ups are important.

“Every woman of child baring age or sexually active should have a pap smear. And men over 50 should have a digital rectal examination to check for prostate,” according to Greef.

Digital rectal examination is a procedure doctors use to examine the lower rectum and other internal organs.

Greef says cervical cancer is the leading cause of death in women in the country as is prostate cancer in men.

She says it is likely that some prisoners would have undiagnosed cancers or there could be challenges with the department’s screening processes.

“What about those who have a family history of cancer? When they arrive in the facility it should be part of the department’s screening process where they ask the inmates these questions, because those people will have to be screened much sooner,” says Greef.

[quote float= right]By the time Lucas was diagnosed last June it was too late to save him,

But the Correctional Services Department spokesman Manelisi Wolela said they adhere to national cancer screening guidelines and screen men who are 40 and older for enlarged prostates.

Female inmates are examined for signs of breast cancer such as lumps and discoloration and of abnormalities are found they are referred for further assessment.

“In the 2014/15 financial year to end of February, 9 474 men were screened for enlarged prostates,” said Wolela. “The challenge is that some men are reluctant to be screened for this”.

By the time Lucas was diagnosed last June it was too late to save him, and he died in November while his application for medical parole was pending.

Mngadi believes that when someone is as incapacitated as her son was they should not be allowed to remain behind bars.

“You can’t do anything for yourself, what harm can you do? Lucas was at a point where he couldn’t walk. It just goes to show that when you are in jail everyone forgets about your needs,” she said.

Meanwhile Greef has emphasised the need for prisons to educate inmates of the warning signs of cancer so they can do self-examinations. – Health-e News.

*Name changed upon request

About the author

Ayanda Mkhwanazi

Ayanda Mkhwanazi is a senior journalist with Health-e News.