In Summary
  • Nairobi hosts some of the best cancer hospitals in the country.
  • The cost of cancer treatment varies from Sh500,000 to over Sh1 million.
  • Many Kenyans are not able to afford the treatment even in public hospitals.
  • The biggest risk factor for most cancers is age, and most people diagnosed are over 60.

From scarcity of specialists and diagnostic equipment … to availability of drugs in the market and lack of finances, cancer treatment in Kenya faces several challenges.

There are currently 30 oncologists in the country against a population of 48,000 cancer patients, with the number rising at an alarmingly rate. Most of them are based in Nairobi, and citizens in remote areas have to travel longer distances to get treatment, which sometimes delays for months and even years, depending on the time of booking.

The waiting causes previously curable tumours to advance to incurable stages while some patients die while on the waiting list.

RADIATION THERAPIES

In Kenya, cancer is treated through medical, surgical, and radiation therapies such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy to kill the cancerous cells and prevent them from spreading.

Kenya boasts 12 radiotherapy machines, of which KNH has three while the rest are in private hospitals. However, with only one radiotherapy centre at KNH, the country’s cancer management is limping.

Nairobi hosts some of the best cancer hospitals in the country. The cost of cancer treatment varies from Sh500,000, depending on the type of cancer being treated, to over Sh1 million.

Many Kenyans are not able to afford the treatment even in public hospitals. This explains the unacceptable high annual mortality rate of 28,000. Globally, cancer causes more deaths than HIV, TB and malaria combined.

CANCER BURDEN

Some 70 per cent of the global cancer burden is in low and middle-income countries. In Kenya, cancer is now the third leading cause of death and second among non-communicable diseases, accounting for seven per cent of overall mortality rate.

The annual incidences are estimated to be 47,000 new cases with an annual mortality rate of 28,000.

Although cancer is curable, unfortunately 70-80 per cent of patients are diagnosed with the disease when it is at an advanced stage, with a high incidence of misdiagnosis and inadequate screening hindering early detection.

With the inclusion of cancer in the National Health Insurance Fund, many Kenyans are hoping to get the services affordably. Is there anything you can do to lessen the chances of getting cancer?

TRIGGER FACTORS

Cancer risk factors include exposure to chemicals or other substances, as well as certain behaviours like smoking. They also include things people cannot control, like age and family history.

A family history of certain cancers can be a sign of a possible inherited cancer syndrome.

Cancer happens when normal cells change so that they grow in an uncontrolled way. This uncontrolled growth causes a tumour to form. This could be triggered by several factors.

The biggest risk factor for most cancers is age, and most people diagnosed are over 60.

Other factors include lifestyle habits, hormones, cancer-causing substances (chemicals), chronic inflammation, diet, hormones, immunosuppression and infectious agents; but the majority of cancers, including prostate, have no known cause.

DEADLY DISEASE

It is not possible to explain why some people develop cancer and others do not, hence there is no certain way to prevent one from contracting this deadly disease.

However, there are things one can do to reduce the risk, for instance, stop smoking as it is not only linked to lung cancer but also other forms of cancer.

Always eat a well-balanced diet, rich in all the nutrients, and exercise at least 30 minutes or more for most days of the week. Weight should be kept stable as being overweight may heighten your risk of cancer.

Consume alcohol in moderation and one should also ensure they get immunised to prevent specific virus that amplifies the risk of cancer such as the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Other experts advise people to avoid excessive sun exposure by wearing protective clothes, using sunscreen or staying in a shade to prevent skin cancer. The role of mental health in managing cancer.

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