Journal of Cancer Education

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 573–579 | Cite as

Traditional Herbalists and Cancer Management in Kumasi, Ghana

  • Kieran S. O’Brien
  • Amr S. SolimanEmail author
  • Kofi Annan
  • Richard N. Lartey
  • Baffour Awuah
  • Sofia D. Merajver


Cancer incidence rates are increasing in sub-Saharan Africa where traditional medical practitioners (TMPs) are involved in cancer management. Little is known about the specific role that TMPs play in cancer management in Ghana; we hypothesize that an understanding of the practices of TMPs with regard to cancer patients would help to enhance literacy about cancer amongst TMPs and would contribute to the diagnosis of cancer at earlier stages, by avoiding the detrimental delays while enlisting their help in certain activities that enhance cancer care. To elucidate the nature of the involvement of TMPs in cancer management, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 42 TMPs who practice in Kumasi, Ghana. The interviews elicited information about their knowledge and practices regarding cancer management and interactions with local hospitals. The results showed that TMPs tended to identify cancers as diseases of visible masses, fungating lesions, ulceration, and bleeding reflecting the advanced stages and types of cancers they usually encounter. TMPs identified certain causes of cancer and believed that they can treat and prevent cancer. These results indicate that TMPs are significant health service delivery resources in Ghana for patients potentially affected with cancer. Our work suggests that dedicated efforts to further integrate TMPs into the overall health care system would be beneficial to patients. Future research should examine the role of cancer education and training programs for TMPs to enhance their knowledge, strengthen their ability to complement allopathic practitioners, and increase early detection and treatment efforts through appropriate and timely referrals.


Traditional herbalists Cancer Epidemiology Ghana 



The authors would like to thank Ammankwa Abdulai, Mary Margaret Darkwa, and Mary Margaret Owusu Agyemang, as well as the staff at both KATH and KNUST Department of Herbal Medicine, for their assistance in facilitating the interviews of this study as well as for sharing their knowledge of the practices of local traditional herbalists. Kieran O'Brien was supported by the Cancer Epidemiology Education in Special Populations (CEESP) Program of the University of Michigan through funding from the National Cancer Institute grant (R25 CA112383), and the University of Michigan Center for Global Health. SDM gratefully acknowledges support from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Avon Foundation, the Tempting Tables Organization (Muskegon, MI), and the Debbie Strange-Browne Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation (Schererville, IN).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kieran S. O’Brien
    • 1
  • Amr S. Soliman
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  • Kofi Annan
    • 2
  • Richard N. Lartey
    • 2
  • Baffour Awuah
    • 3
  • Sofia D. Merajver
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.University of Michigan School of Public HealthAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of Herbal MedicineKwame Nkrumah University of Science and TechnologyKumasiGhana
  3. 3.Komfo Anokye Teaching HospitalKumasiGhana
  4. 4.University of Michigan Medical School and Center for Global HealthAnn ArborUSA
  5. 5.Department of EpidemiologyUniversity of Michigan School of Public HealthAnn ArborUSA

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