True or False? American Dogs Get Better Cancer Treatment Than Nigerian People

Fagjun | Published 2017-10-24 21:33

Venture capitalist Sean Murphy claimed on social media that dogs in the US receive better cancer treatment than people in Nigeria. Is there any truth to this statement?

A dog receives anesthesia in preparation for radiotherapy. [Photo by the Houston Chronicle]



According to Murphy, a dog with lymphoma in Miami is more likely to have access to a radiotherapy machine than a woman with a brain tumor in Lagos. Allegedly, this is because there are more radiotherapy machines for dogs in the US than for people in Nigeria. The fact that many were outraged but not surprised says a lot about the current state of affairs when it comes to the accessibility and availability of healthcare in many countries.


However, is it indeed true that dogs in the US receive better cancer treatment than human beings in less developed nations? All this outrage may be for nothing--it’s not the first time that people have been duped by false claims. The answer, in actuality, is not as clear-cut or simple than we’d like it to be.

Radiotherapy Machine Availability

How many radiotherapy machines are available for the people of Nigeria? [Photo by Getty Images]



The truth is that there are indeed fewer radiotherapy machines for human cancer patients in Nigeria than there are for dogs with cancer in the US. However--and that’s a big however--there are more cancer diagnoses among US pets than there are among Nigerian people.


However, this doesn’t mean that everything is just peachy when it comes to cancer treatments in Nigeria. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Directory of Radiotherapy Centers, only three radiotherapy machines in Nigeria are currently operational, and none of them is a linear accelerator. A linear accelerator has the ability to treat every part of the body.


So far, there are eight machines for treatment planning, like CT scanners, in Nigeria. However, there is no known facility or machine for brachytherapy, which enables the administration of treatment through an implant.


Even if these machines are available, however, they’ll be spread pretty thin. According to the World Bank, Nigeria has a population of nearly 186 million people. With another radiotherapy machine--this time a linear accelerator--in construction in Abuja, there will be one functional radiotherapy machine for every 46.5 million Nigerians.


So how do pets in the US fare in terms of cancer treatments compared to people in Nigeria?


As of 2010, there are about 76 linear accelerators for animals in the US. There are around 65 million pet dogs, as well as 32 million cats, which can also fit into the machines. Thus, there is one radiotherapy machine for every 1.28 million cats and dogs in the US.

The Costs of Treatment

A new linear accelerator is apparently under construction in Abuja [Photo by AFP]



These numbers definitely make it look as if Murphy’s claims are right. However, we also need to take into account the fact that pet animals are more likely to get cancer than people are. In the US, about 12 million pets get cancer every year, meaning that there’s a radiotherapy machine for every 158,000 cats and dogs.


Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organization, 102,100 Nigerians were diagnosed with cancer in 2012. Thus, that’s one radiotherapy machine for every 25,500 people.


Still, for pets or humans, cancer treatment is a matter of affordability. It has been argued that many Nigerians won’t be able to shoulder the costs of receiving treatment from private facilities, which may have the equipment to treat cancer. It can also cost $10,000 to treat a pet’s cancer.


Thus, the availability of radiotherapy machines is indeed a problem not just in Nigeria, but probably other places in the world as well. However, be it for pets or humans, financial costs are another barrier to receiving adequate cancer treatment.

Hey! Where are you going?? Subscribe!

Get weekly science updates in your inbox!