Health systems in Sub-Saharan Africa are not prepared for the rapid rise in cancer rates projected in the region over the next decades. More must be understood about the current state of cancer care in this region to target improvement efforts. Yaounde General Hospital (YGH) currently is the only site in Cameroon (population: 18.8 million) where adults can receive chemotherapy from trained medical oncologists. The experiences of patients at this facility represent a useful paradigm for describing cancer care in this region.
In July and August 2010, our multidisciplinary team conducted closed-end interviews with 79 consecutive patients who had confirmed breast cancer, Kaposi sarcoma, or lymphoma.
Thirty-five percent of patients waited >6 months to speak to a health care provider after the first sign of their cancer. The delay between first consultation with a health care provider and receipt of a cancer diagnosis was >3 months for 47% of patients. The total delay from the first sign of cancer to receipt of the correct diagnosis was >6 months for 63% of patients. Twenty-three percent of patients traveled for >7 hours to reach YGH, and 40% of patients interviewed spent >$200 on a single round of chemotherapy.
Cancer patients experienced numerous geographic and health care system challenges, resulting in significant delays in receiving diagnosis and treatment, even for cancers highly amenable to early intervention. This unacceptable and unethical situation is likely explained by limited knowledge about cancer among patients and health care professionals, government neglect, poverty, and reliance on traditional healers. Cancer 2012;3627–3635. © 2011 American Cancer Society.