Cancer is a huge menace in Kenya and its treatment requires more investments so that both the rich and poor can afford the therapies.
No one is spared when it comes to cancer as it affects both the rich and the poor alike.
The most affordable cancer treatment in Kenya reportedly costs Ksh 500,000 and this is not even cheap for the ordinary Kenyan. This figure can go as high as millions of Kenyan shillings when blood cancer is involved.
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What is cancer?
Cancer is defined as the growth of abnormal cells that multiply uncontrollably in the body.
Such cells infiltrate and harm the healthy body tissues and may spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases on earth today after claiming millions of lives globally.
Nevertheless, new developments in cancer screening and cancer treatment have augmented the survival rates for most types of cancer.
What causes cancer?
Cancer is triggered by the mutations in the DNA of the cells found in one’s body.
Each cell comprises of DNA packed with numerous individual genes that have a set of instructions to guide each cell on its function, division, and growth.
In the event that there are errors in these instructions, the cell will stop its normal functioning and it will become cancerous growing at an abnormal rate.
So what causes the changes in the DNA of the cells?
Even though the real cause of cancer remains unknown, we have several risk factors that increase the chances of contracting the deadly disease.
Some of these risk factors include:
1. The use of tobacco
2. Bad alcohol habits
3. Exposure to harmful environment carcinogens
4. Infectious ailments like HIV/AIDS, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and Hepatitis B & C
5. Bacterial infections as well as parasitic infestations.
Types of cancer
There are over 100 different known types of cancer but the most common types in Kenya include the following:
Blood cancer is also dubbed as Leukaemia.
It occurs in the body’s blood-forming tissues such as the bone marrow and the lymphatic system.
Blood cancer affects the proper functioning of the white blood cells which are used to fight diseases in the body.
When one has Leukaemia, their bone marrow produces anomalous white blood cells that interfere with its normal functioning.
Symptoms of blood cancer
1. Common or severe infections since white blood cells are not working properly.
2. Weakness and fatigue.
3. Swollen lymph nodes or enlarged spleen or liver
4. Experiencing fever or chills
5. Unexplained weight loss
6. Recurring nosebleeds
7. The appearance of tiny red patches on the skin
8. Uncontrollable sweating at night
9. Easy bleeding
10. Bruising bone pain and soreness
Pancreatic cancer is one in which the cancerous cells develop in the pancreas.
When left untreated, the tumour spreads from the pancreas to other organs adjacent to the pancreas like the liver and lungs.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer
During the early stages, this particular condition will not exhibit any signs or symptoms making it difficult for early detection. But as the disease progress, one is likely to have symptoms such as;
1. Abdominal and back discomfort
2. Unexplained weight loss
3. Lack of appetite
4. Pain when swallowing
5. Difficulties in digesting food, indigestion, bloating, burping and lots of gas.
7. Changes in bowel movements.
Throat cancer refers to the type where the cancerous cells grow and develop within the throat, voice box or tonsils.
According to research done by North Carolina Central University (US), Kenyatta National Hospital, University of Nairobi and Dalian University, Kenya has the leading number of throat cancer incidences in both men and women globally.
Other countries with a high occurrence of throat cancers include Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa, Iran, and China.
Throat cancer symptoms
1. Soreness of the throat
2. Ear pain
4. Changes in the voice including hoarseness or not speaking audibly
5. Difficulty in swallowing
6. Weight loss
7. A lump or sore that never heals
Breast cancer refers to a group of cancerous cells occurring in the cells of one’s breast.
This goes without saying that breast cancer can affect both genders but is more prevalent in women.
Breast cancer remains one of the most occurring types of cancer in women in Kenya.
According to statistics conducted by Nairobi Cancer Registry back in 2002, of all the recorded cancers in women, breast cancer accounted for 23.3%.
Symptoms of breast cancer
1. Breast lumps or an abnormal thickening different from the surrounding tissues.
2. Transformation of the breast in either size or shape.
3. Inverted niрples.
4. Changes of the skin around the breast such as dimpling.
5. Flaking, scaling, crusting or peeling of the skin surrounding the niррle area.
6. Having a red skin over the breast or pitting that looks like the orange peel skin.
After breast cancer, cervical cancer is the second largest occurring type of cancer in women accounting for more than 20%.
Cervical cancer is that which occurs in the cells of the cervix- the lower part of the uterus that joins to the vagina.
Most cervical cancers are believed to be caused by various strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection.
As such, one can reduce the chance of contracting cervical cancer by undergoing routine cancer screening tests and receiving the vaccine that eliminates HPV infections.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
During the early stages, cervical cancer will not show any signs or symptoms until at an advanced stage.
Here are some of the signs of cervical cancer:
1. Pelvic pain or discomfort during a sexual encounter.
2. Spotting after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
3. Having watery or bloody vaginal discharge that has a foul odour
Prostate cancer is the commonest male cancer in Kenya.
This type of cancer forms within the prostate gland which is responsible for the production of seminal fluid which feeds and transports sperm.
Prostate cancer develops slowly and at first, it remains limited to the prostate gland where it does not cause much harm.
Nevertheless, some specific types of prostate cancer may be aggressive, spread fast and require treatment.
The best way to treat prostate cancer is to detect it early and treat it while it is still confined to the prostate gland.
Symptoms of prostate cancer
These are the symptoms of advanced prostate cancer:
1. Experiencing difficulty when urinating
2. Reduced force or velocity of the stream of the urine
3. Traces of blood in semen
4. Pain in the pelvic region
5. Bone pain
6. Erectile dysfunction
7. Burning or pain during urination
As the name suggests, lung cancer is a form of cancer arising in the lungs, the body organs that take in oxygen during inhalation and emit carbon dioxide when exhaling.
Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer mortality globally.
This is because it affects both genders thereby claiming more lives each year than prostate, breast, colon, cervical and ovarian cancers collectively.
Individuals who smoke have a higher incidence of lung cancer even though it may also occur in non-smokers.
Symptoms of lung cancer
1. A bad cough that does not heal
2. Coughing up blood
3. Hoarseness in one’s voice
4. Bone pain
5. Chest pain
6. Shortness of breath
7. Loss of weight
8. Recurrent headaches
Skin cancer occurs when there is an abnormal growth of skin cells.
This disease normally forms in areas exposed to the sun but in some instances, it can appear to unexposed areas as well.
The two main types of skin cancers are determined by the cells involved including Keratinocyte carcinoma and Melanoma.
There are also others not so common types such as Basal cell carcinoma, actinic keratosis, and Squamous cell carcinoma.
Symptoms of skin cancer
1. The appearance of skin lesions which may include moles, sore, patch, dark spots or unusual growth that does not go away.
2. Asymmetry of the skin lesions which means that two halves of the mole or patch are not identical.
3. The lesions will have ragged or uneven edges.
4. The mole on the skin will have an unusual color such as pink, red, white, blue or black.
5. The pact or mole is bigger than one-quarter inch. One will notice changes in the mole in size, color, and shape.
Colon cancer is the growth of abnormal cells within the large intestine- the final section of the digestive system.
In most cases, colon cancers start as a small noncancerous group of cells known as adenomatous polyps which then develop to become colon cancer.
Symptoms and signs of colon cancer
1. Changes in one’s bowel movements including diarrhoea, constipation of inconsistency of the stool lasting for more than a month.
2. Rectal bleeding or traces of blood in the stool.
3. Stubborn abdominal discomfort in the form of cramps, pain or gas.
4. Loss of weight even without trying.
5. Weakness or fatigue.
6. Episodes when you feel that your bowel has not emptied completely.
Even though there is no certain way to prevent one from contracting this deadly disease, oncologists worldwide have identified a number of ways to reduce your incidence risk.
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
Avoid excessive sun exposure by wearing protective clothing, using sunscreen or staying in a shade.
Ensure to exercise at least 30 minutes or more for most days of the week.
Keep your weight stable as being overweight may heighten your risk of cancer.
Consume alcoholic drinks in moderation or alleviate them completely.
Ensure to get immunizations that prevent you from a specific virus that augment the risk of cancer such as the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Cancer treatment in Kenya
There are many types of cancer treatment. The types of treatment that you receive will depend on the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is.
Some people with cancer will have only one treatment. But most people have a combination of treatments, such as surgery with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
When you need treatment for cancer, you have a lot to learn and think about.
It is normal to feel overwhelmed and confused. But, talking with your doctor and learning about the types of treatment you may have can help you feel more in control.
When used to treat cancer, surgery is a procedure in which a surgeon removes cancer from your body.
Learn the different ways that surgery is used against cancer and what you can expect before, during, and after surgery.
2. Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Learn about the types of radiation, why side effects happen, which ones you might have, and more.
Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Learn how chemotherapy works against cancer, why it causes side effects, and how it is used with other cancer treatments.
4. Immunotherapy to Treat Cancer
Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that helps your immune system fight cancer. Get information about the types of immunotherapy and what you can expect during treatment.
5. Targeted Therapy
Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that targets the changes in cancer cells that help them grow, divide, and spread. Learn how targeted therapy works against cancer and about common side effects that may occur.
6. Hormone Therapy
Hormone therapy is a treatment that slows or stops the growth of breast and prostate cancers that use hormones to grow. Learn about the types of hormone therapy and side effects that may happen.
7. Stem Cell Transplant
Stem cell transplants are procedures that restore blood-forming stem cells in cancer patients who have had theirs destroyed by very high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Learn about the types of transplants, side effects that may occur, and how stem cell transplants are used in cancer treatment.
8. Precision Medicine
Precision medicine helps doctors select treatments that are most likely to help patients based on a genetic understanding of their disease. Learn about the role precision medicine plays in cancer treatment, including how genetic changes in a person's cancer are identified and used to select treatments.
Cancer Hospitals in Kenya
Kenya still has fewer oncologists who are mostly found in a few health facilities in Nairobi.
Some of the best cancer hospitals in Kenya are situated in Nairobi county and they include;
1. Texas Cancer Centre
2. Cancer Care Kenya
3. Aga Khan University Hospital
4. Beacon Health Services Cancer Treatment Center
5. The Nairobi Hospital Cancer Treatment Centre
6. Kenyatta National Hospital
7. Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital found in AMPATH Oncology Center
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