Concern as three people die from cancer per hour

Wednesday, November 16th, 2022 07:42 | By
Concern as three people die from cancer per hour
Chairperson NCI/K Board Dr Githinji Gitahi (right) with Dr Andrew Mulwa Ag Director of Medical Services Ministry of Health during the official launch of the National Cancer Summit 2023 in Nairobi, yesterday. PD/William Oeri

Kenya loses one person every 20 minutes to cancer, translating to 72 fatalities a day, according to data from the Health ministry.

The ministry noted that the total number of fatalities arising from the disease was more than half of all cancer cases diagnosed annually in Kenya.

  Acting Director of Medical Services Dr Andrew Mulwa, National Cancer Institute (NCI-K) chief executive Dr Alfred Karagu and the Institute’s board chairperson Dr Githinji Gitahi expressed concern that most of the cases are diagnosed late when the disease has advanced.

 The data revealed that one in every two Kenyans diagnosed with any type of cancer succumbs to the disease in the same year of detection.

 “Currently, two out of three persons diagnosed with cancer will die from the disease since 70 percent of cases are diagnosed in advanced stages when cure is impossible,” Mulwa said in Nairobi where the NCI announced plans to hold the country’s first ever national cancer summit.

 The summit themed: Uniting our voices and taking action will take place between February 2 and 4, 2023.  It also emerged that despite the high burden, only about 23 percent of Kenyans have access to cancer management services.

Mulwa revealed that the available treatment modalities for cancer carry high costs that burden the affected patients throughout the rest of their lives.

According to the NCI-K, the cancer burden is rising and exerting major strain on populations and health systems at all income levels.

Karagu said that out of all cancers in Kenya, breast cancer is leading with at least 5,985 cases being reported annually, and accounting for 12.5 per cent of all new cases. “Breast cancer is generally heavily prevalent in the urban set-up. In Nairobi, Nyanza and Western, cervical cancer is high especially among persons living with HIV and in areas in the Rift Valley; Kericho and Bomet carry the biggest burden of esophageal cancer,” said Dr Karagu.

He said that the top five common cancers are breast, cervical, prostate, esophageal cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that account for nearly half - 48 per cent - of the cancer burden in the country.

“Cancer is the third leading cause of death both globally and in Kenya. In 2020, the country reported 42,000 new cancer cases and 27,000 cancer related deaths,” he noted.

Early screening

Cervical and breast cancers, Karagu pointed out, contribute to almost a quarter, 23 percent, of all cancer related deaths.

Dr Gitahi said the cancer burden is now affecting Kenyans of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds, adding that it has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable groups.

“At least 76 people are dying in Kenya everyday. 70 percent of cancer patients die, as the cases are diagnosed when the disease is at an advanced stage when cure is impossible.”

He added: “What the National Cancer Summit will seek to answer is what we can do to prevent cancer first? If not prevented, how do we diagnose it early? The answer is in screening of all populations and those already affected to be put on treatment immediately.”

Lucy Njeri Kariuki, a cancer warrior narrated her battle with the disease.

She narrated how she quit her job to look after her ailing mother who was critically ill. Over time, she was forced to stop breastfeeding her child in order to fully concentrate on caring for her sick mother.

But immediately she stopped breast feeding the baby, she noticed something strange with her breasts and went for a check-up.

“I could feel lymph nodes in my armpits and it was very painful. I sought medical advice at a local health facility where I was told that it was mastitis and put me on medication,” she said. Mastitis is an inflammation of breast tissue.

The condition deteriorated rapidly, she told the gathering.

 “I visited Kenyatta National Hospital after several other sojourns to other health facilities in the country. This latest one was shocking. I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” she narrated.

“The National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) helped me clear the hospital bills though today it has hitches,” said Njeri.

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