If you happen to be a cancer patient needing radiation in Senegal, getting past the shock of the diagnosis and onto treatment is a major hardship at the moment.

The country's only radiotherapy machine — indeed for a long while the only one in French-speaking West Africa — is broken. That's the machine whose radiation is used to treat primarily breast, head and neck tumors and bone cancer.

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Dr. Mamadou Diop is charge of the cancer institute at Aristide Le Dantec Hospital. In consultation with his colleagues, Diop made the decision to switch off the Cobalt radiotherapy machine in December, after it kept breaking down. He says it had simply become too dangerous — for patients receiving treatment and technicians operating the machine.

The Senegalese government has promised four new radiotherapy machines for Senegal — including a replacement for this hospital – will be installed this year. Until then, patients must travel to Morocco for treatment — at the government's expense, with help from the Senegalese Anti-Cancer League.

Senegal doesn't have good statistics on cancer numbers or deaths. Currently, Diop says, prostate cancer is thought to be the country's number one cancer. But he is convinced that breast cancer is a bigger killer in Senegal.

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