Improving Brain Tumor Research in Africa’s Resource-Limited Countries

Neoplasms of the brain are often overlooked in resource-limited countries. What is the current status, importance, challenges, and methods of improving brain tumor research in Africa?

Worldwide, death from cancer alone is comparable to the combined deaths from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Cancer was originally believed to be a disease of developed nations, but recent estimates indicate that it is also a major health burden in resource-limited countries.

Although benign and malignant brain tumors typically have a different prognosis, they are typically part of a neurooncology program. Therefore, the term ‘brain tumor’ is used, for practical reasons, interchangeably with brain cancer in this review in order to easily describe the lack of neurooncological facilities.

53 percent of the estimated 12.7 million new cancer cases in 2008 were from developing countries, and the yearly incidence is expected to rise to 27 million by the year 2050. It is becoming more obvious that oncological diseases are no longer a concern only of the developed world, as low-income countries also have an increasing burden of tumors. The challenge of treating cancer in low-income countries is worse than in developed nations due to a lack of proper healthcare organization.

Generally, there is far less cancer research in resource-limited countries compared to developed countries. Nevertheless, there are a few research centers, as well as public and private organizations, that partner on research in breast, cervical, prostate, and other types of cancers. Notable examples include collaborations between Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI)/State University of Buffalo, New York with two Nigerian hospitals: the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) in 2009 and the Lagos State University Teaching (LASUTH)/College of Medicine in 2013. Also, in 2012, five different organizations with an interest in the research and control of cancer in Africa met in London to deliberate on the best way forward.

Brain tumors have largely been underestimated and ignored in resource-limited countries, and these types of tumors are not even listed among the important cancers in West Africa, which has had a serious negative impact on brain tumor research in this region. With this perspective, we highlight the status, importance, challenges, and methods of improving brain tumor research in resource-limited countries with an emphasis on West Africa.

In Nigeria, like in many African countries, little research has been conducted on the incidence of brain tumors. In a hospital-based cancer registry (HBCR) conducted in the 1990’s, brain tumor was ranked third in incidence at Jos University Teaching Hospital among all neoplasms, which was surprisingly greater than the incidence of breast, genitourinary, and lung cancers.

The risk factors associated with brain tumors include radiation exposure, hereditary factors, age, sex, ethnicity, infections, and heavy metal exposure. In the West African context, high-dose radiation, age, infections, and heavy metals are important factors to consider. The application of radiation in the diagnosis and treatment of disease has increased in resource-limited countries in recent years, but these are with attendant increased risk of brain tumors. A study has shown that patients receiving dental radiography annually were at higher risk of developing meningioma than those receiving similar treatment in less than every fifth year.

On the 8th June, we recognize World Brain Tumor Day. Following this year’s theme: Together we are stronger, some activities to spread awareness around brain tumor are:

1. Wearing a blue ribbon
2. Using social media #hashtags e.g #WorldBrainTumorDay
3. Reaching out to someone who has lost someone to brain cancer or was diagnosed with a brain tumor
4. Educating yourself and teaching others about the types of brain tumors, symptoms and treatment options
5. Starting community fundraiser
6. Donating to an organization that funds research for brain tumor
7. Volunteering to help a brain tumor patient

As we continue to support brain tumor patients and their families, how can you contribute to the research of brain tumors on the continent?

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