Surgery is an essential component of a functional health system, with surgical conditions accounting for nearly 11–15% of world disability. While communicable diseases continue to burden low- and low–middle-income countries, non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, are an important cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Preliminary data on malignancies in low- and middle-income countries, specifically in Africa, suggest a higher mortality compared to other regions of the world, a difference partially explained by limited availability of screening and early detection systems as well as poorer access to treatment.
To evaluate the diagnosed tumor burden in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and review literature on existing and suspected barriers to accessing appropriate oncologic care.
This is a retrospective study carried out at Healthcare, Education, community Action, and Leadership development Africa, a 197-bed tertiary referral hospital, in the Province of North Kivu, along the eastern border of the DRC from 2012 to 2015. Patient charts were reviewed for diagnoses of presumed malignancy with biopsy results.
A total of 252 cases of suspected cancer were reviewed during the study period; 39.7% were men. The average age of patients was 43 years. Amongst adult patients, the most common presenting condition involved breast lesions with 5.8% diagnosis of fibrocystic breast changes and 2.9% invasive ductal carcinoma of the breast. 37.3% of female patients had lesions involving the cervix or uterus. The most common diagnosis amongst male adults was prostate disease (16.7% of men). For pediatric patients, the most common diagnoses involved bone and/or cartilage (27.3%) followed by skin and soft tissue lesions (20.0%). All patients underwent surgical resection of lesions; some patients were advised to travel out of country for chemotherapy and radiation for which follow-up data are unavailable.
Adequate and timely treatment of malignancy in the DRC faces a multitude of challenges. Access to surgical services for diagnosis and management as well as chemotherapeutic agents is prohibitively limited. Increased collaboration with local clinicians and remote specialist consultants is needed to deliver subspecialty care in resource-poor settings.