The basics of cancer in Zimbabwe

Shamiso Yikoniko – Leisure Reporter

Being diagnosed with cancer, for many people, is almost a death sentence due to the high cost of treatment.

The costs associated with diagnosis, treatment and management of the disease is very high.

Diagnosis and detection

A cancer diagnosis is nearly always made by an expert looking at cell or tissue samples under a microscope. In some cases, laboratory tests of the cells’ proteins or DNA can help tell doctors if cancer is present.

These tests can also help in choosing the best treatment options.

Tests of cells and tissues can find many other kinds of diseases too.

For example, if doctors are not sure a lump is cancerous, they may have the sample tested for cancer and for infections or other problems that can cause growths that may look like cancer.

In the case that one is diagnosed with cancer, they are asked to go for staging tests.

Cancer staging is the process of determining how much cancer is in the body and where it is located.

Understanding the stage of the cancer helps doctors to develop a prognosis and design a treatment plan for individual patients.

Staging tests costs US$200.

Treatment, management

In Zimbabwe there are limited options of conventional cancer treatment modalities.

For instance, radiotherapy is considered the most appropriate treatment modality for cancer patients.

Still, only a fraction — some 700 to 1 500 out of 5 000 to 7 000 cancer cases annually — are treated with radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy costs between US$3 000 and US$4 000 for a whole session.

Chemotherapy costs between US$100 to US$1 000 per cycle depending on the stage the cancer is.

A cancer patient may need a minimum of six cycles and these can go up to 12.

A cycle includes the time one has chemotherapy and then breaks for the next round of treatment as the body recovers.

Sometimes cancer patients might require blood.

A pint of blood costs about US$214.

Chemotherapy is treatment via chemical substances like cytotoxic; while radiotherapy is treatment using X-rays or similar forms of radiation.

Cancer treatment is highly centralised in Zimbabwe, with only two public health centres offering comprehensive services: Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals (Harare) and Mpilo Hospital (Bulawayo).

Chemotherapy drugs and related medicines such as morphine are often unavailable at public pharmacies.

The low number of cancer specialists in the country compared to the number of patients makes for a difficult situation.

Palliative care — a core modality in cancer management — is also expensive to many.


NB: This article is for general awareness purposes only. The public is encouraged to consult medical experts for detection, diagnosis and treatment advice.

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