Colorectal cancer in Tanzania: the current status and future directions

22 Jun 2023
Larry Akoko, Nathan Brand, Vihar Kotecha, Sam Byabato, Jerry Ndumbalo, Masumbuko Mwashambwa, Amos Mwakigonja, Ann Lowry

Introduction: Globally, colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common malignancy and the second most common cause of cancer death. By 2030, the incidence is expected to increase to reach 2.2 million cases and 1.1 million deaths. In Sub-Saharan Africa, accurate cancer incidence data is limited, but anecdotally, clinicians note a significant rise in the incidence of CRC in the past decade. To educate clinicians on the growing burden of CRC, the Tanzanian Surgical Association hosted a 4-day CRC symposium from 3rd to 6th October 2022. Following the meeting, a group of multidisciplinary stakeholders created a working group whose first task was to assess the epidemiology, presentation and available resources for CRC care in Tanzania. The findings of that assessment are described in this article.

Findings: The true incidence of CRC in Tanzania is currently unknown. However, individual high-volume centres have noted a dramatic rise in cases of colon and rectal cancer on their wards. A review of the published data on CRC in Tanzania showed that most patients present with CRC late and the limited availability of endoscopic and diagnostic services poses a challenge for accurately staging these patients prior to treatment. Multidisciplinary care, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, is available for the treatment of CRC in Tanzania, although the capacity and quality of these services vary throughout the country.

Conclusion: There is a substantial burden of CRC in Tanzania that appears to be increasing. While there is capacity in the country to provide all aspects of multidisciplinary care, late presentation, limited access to diagnostic and treatment services and poor coordination continue to be significant barriers to providing optimal treatment to these patients.

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