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Breast cancer in Nigeria: newly diagnosed women to receive free medications from ARETTA study


NEWLY diagnosed Nigerian women with Her-2 type of breast cancer has been selected to receive free treatments of  Herceptin SC that cost millions of naira through a study called the ARETTA.

The ARETTA study, Assessing Response to neoadjuvant Taxotere and Trastuzumab in Nigeria women with HER 2-positive breast cancer is majorly supported by Roche Pharmaceuticals and the University of Chicago.

The leader of the study, Olufunmilayo Olapade, Nigerian oncologist and professor at the University of Chicago said the free treatment was important to encourage early diagnoses and treatment of breast cancer. Thus she said it was opened to women who had been newly diagnosed with breast cancer and had not spread beyond the breast.

“This is the first time a study like this is happening in Nigeria, and we are delighted to provide this relatively expensive drug – Herceptin SC free of charge to eligible Nigerian women,” said Olopade.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) stated that the disease is the second leading cause of death globally.

New cases of cancer in Nigeria in 2018. Source: WHO’s IARC.



In Nigeria, IARC estimated that there were 115,950 new cases of cancer in 2018 among all ages, where more than half of the people newly diagnosed were females.

Nigerian Women that developed different kind of cancer diseases last year was put at 71,002.

Not less than 70,000 Nigerians died of cancer, where 41,913 of the cancer deaths were women.

Meanwhile, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among Nigerian women with an estimated 26,310 new cases and 11,564 deaths last year.

The different types of breast cancer include hormone receptor-positive, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), and triple-negative breast cancer.

Among these types, the ARETTA study group said HER2 positive-type was the most expensive to treat in Nigeria. To treat breast cancer, oncologists usually recommend to patients “modern targeted therapy known as Herceptin”.

“One course of Herceptin costs about N309, 000 and in most cases a woman is expected to take 18 courses. In total, it could cost over N5,562,000 for a woman to get treated from HER2 positive breast cancer,” the group said in a press statement.

The leader of the ARETTA study, Olufunmilayo Olopade, Nigerian oncologist, 2005 MacArthur Fellow, and professor at The University of Chicago Medicine.Photo Credit: University of Chicago Medicine.

Olapade said the government should act in the interest of Nigerians to reduce costs and provide affordable quality care to cancer patients.

“Without universal health insurance and coverage for a catastrophic illness that is treatable and preventable like cancer, the average Nigerian cannot afford health care,” she said.

Olapade noted that Nigerian doctors could save more lives but the government needed to develop a health system that would work for all Nigerians; “not only the rich who can leave the country to get care”.

She added that the country needed to build the capacity of cancer specialists to treat cancer so that patients did not need to travel out of the country to secure treatment.

“The study is open only to women who have newly diagnosed breast cancer that has not spread beyond the breast.

“Very important that women do not delay getting diagnosed and treated,” she gave more explanation on the free treatment.

The national principal investigator for ARETTA, Atara Ntekim, who is also an oncologist at the Department of Radiation Oncology, University College Hospital Ibadan, said the free medications would be provided at the UCH Ibadan,  Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) and Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTHC) Ile Ife.

“We will be willing to extend this study to other facilities across Nigeria for the benefit of Nigerian women,” he added.

While commending the efforts of ARETTA study, Runcie Chidebe, the head of Project Pink Blue, a cancer-fighting organisation, encouraged Nigerian women to take the opportunity of the free treatment.

    “In 2015, it took us over 1year to raise N9million needed to purchase Herceptin for one 35year old indigent breast cancer patient who approached us for funding for her treatment.

    “Nigerian women will get this same cancer medicine free. This is commendable. I encourage women across the country to key-in and benefit from this,” he said.

    Runcie said there were more breast cancer deaths in Nigeria due to some factors ranging from absence of organised screenings, poverty, poor treatment and poor access to cancer medicine.

    “There is a need for intentional action to increase better cancer treatment in Nigeria and African countries,” he noted.

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    1. Good day sir/ma please am commenting from Bayless my mum was newly diagnosed of HER2 type breast cancer and trastuzumab was prescribed for her. We have looked every were for the drug here in yenagoa but couldn’t get it and besides we don’t know if we can afford it please ma/sir help save my mother’s life by enrolling her in the ARETHER programme thanks in anticipation of your urgent reply.


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