Users of Tobacco, Alcohol at High Risk of Cancer – Health Experts

Dr Noleb Mugisha (L), a Senior oncologist at the Uganda Cancer Institute, speaking to reporters.

Health experts at the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) at Mulago national referral hospital have warned that users of alcohol and tobacco are at high risk of suffering cancer of the breast and the liver.

This was revealed Monday by Dr Noleb Mugisha, a Senior oncologist at the Uganda Cancer Institute.

“Our country is known very well for alcohol consumption. Consuming alcohol puts one at a high risk of breast cancer and liver cancer. Please limit your consumption of alcohol,” Dr Noleb Mugisha said during a news conference at the Ministry of Health headquarters in Kampala.

Statistics from the Uganda Cancer Institute at Uganda’s national referral hospital estimate that 32,617 new cases of cancer are registered in Uganda annually.

Dr Victoria Walusansa, an Oncologist said that the Cancer Institute alone receives about 5,000 to 6,000 new cases per year representing 15 to 18 percent of all new cases.

Majority of the cancer patients are usually in advanced stages (III and IV), Dr Walusansa said, warning however that late presentation affects treatment options and makes it even costly,.

Eighty eight (88) percent of the patients with breast cancer are at Stage three and five.

Dr Mugisha also said that users of tobacco are among those at high risk of cancer.

This is because tobacco has toxins that initiate cancer cells growth, he added.

“A lot of people consume tobacco in shisha, cigarettes, chewing and sniffing. Tobacco is associated with over 10 kinds of cancer. Please stop consumption of tobacco”.

Out of all the cases of cancer in Uganda, 19 percent suffer cancer of the cervix, while Kaposi Sarcoma (affects people with HIV or AIDS) accounts for 13 percent,, cancer of the breast for 7.1 percent, cancer if the prostate for 6.4 percent, while non-hodgkin lymphoma accounts for 5.8 percent.

The remaining cases are for other kinds of cancer.

About 10 percent of all the cancers registered at the Institute are in children. In 2018 alone, UCI had about 450 new childhood cancer cases.


Over the years, government has made significant investment in the health sector particularly aimed at reducing the high cost of treatment for cancer. Many Ugandans still spends millions of Shillings in seeking specialized treatment for cancer abroad.

Dr Walusansa said that UCI is currently expanding its surgical oncology program with construction of three more theatres, a 12-bed ICU and a 40 bed cancer surgical in patient ward.

The Cancer Institute currently boasts of two Cobalt-60 Teletherapy machine (EBRT), high dose rate (HDR, Flextron-60) from Elekta, 3-D planning system from Elekta, CT-simulator (Phillips).

Nonetheless, experts say challenges still remain, among them; high patient burden, low staffing levels, inadequate skilled human resources, insufficient infrastructure (equipment) and funding constraints.

Government is also in making headways in decentralizing cancer services to the unserved populations especially those in the countryside.

A number of regional cancer care centres have been established in Mbarara, Arua, Mbale and Gulu.

In the East, the district of Mayuge is being established as a model cancer registry to inform the scaling-up of cancer registries in the country. This is because the Mayuge Cancer Registry receives 2,09,878 cases compared to Kampala Cancer Registry with a population of 2,629,132.

Statistics indicate that the global cancer burden has risen to 18.1 million with deaths estimated at 9.6 million.

Majority of the deaths occur in low income countries in Africa and Asia, often due to late diagnosis.

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