Background: Third world breast cancer is characterized by late presentation, occurrence at relatively young ages and dismal mortality. This poor outcome has encouraged patients to patronize quacks and alternative healers. Public control measures have targeted mainly public education and provision of screening facilities. Recent reports from the developed world indicate a high association with obesity, tobacco and alcohol, habits which though not currently very popular in the third world are nevertheless increasingly accepted.
Methods: A prospective study initiated in 1985 for all breast cancer patients attending 4 hospitals located in the Eastern Nigeria heartland where the author practiced. On attendance to hospital detailed epidemiological data including social habits were collected from patients.
Results: Reports from our first series [1987-97] showed some improvement in terms of earlier presentation compared to a historical control of earlier reports from the sub-region. Reports from the present study showed that this improvement has not been maintained probably as a result of diversion of public health campaign finances to HIV/AIDS. However there is an increasing mean age of presentation due to a higher representation of above 70 years age group and a significant reduction in parity. Alcohol intake and smoking have remained at low levels among the patients.
Conclusion: There is need to take another look at cancer public health campaign mechanisms in the face of competing demands from HIV. Public control measures should include among others teaching of Breast Self Examination [BSE] to patients, Clinical Breast Examination [CBE] to health workers and opportunistic CBE to all patients. Strenuous efforts should be made to break the vicious cycle of late presentation, poor treatment outcome and reluctance of patients to present to health facilities because of poor outcome.