Top 10 Cancer Diseases Affecting the Kenyan Population

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By Selija Achaya

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, and Kenya is no exception. The country has seen a rise in cancer cases in recent years, with more than 47,000 new cases reported annually. Cancer is a disease that occurs when abnormal cells in the body grow and divide uncontrollably, forming a mass or tumor. These tumors can be benign or malignant, with the latter being more dangerous as they can spread to other parts of the body.

Epidemiology of Cancer in Kenya

Cancer is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Kenya. According to the Kenya National Cancer Control Strategy 2017-2022, cancer is the third leading cause of death after infectious and cardiovascular diseases. The incidence of cancer in Kenya has been on the rise, with an estimated 47,887 new cases reported in 2020, compared to 39,080 cases in 2015.

The most common types of cancer in Kenya are breast, cervical, prostate, colorectal, and oesophagal cancer. These types of cancer account for more than 50% of all cancer cases in the country. The incidence of breast and cervical cancer in women is particularly high, with breast cancer being the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women.

The risk factors for cancer in Kenya are similar to those in other countries, including tobacco use, alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and exposure to environmental toxins. In addition, HIV/AIDS is a significant risk factor for some types of cancer, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma.

The diagnosis and treatment of cancer in Kenya are often challenging due to a lack of resources, including trained healthcare professionals, diagnostic equipment, and cancer treatment facilities. As a result, many cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage, making treatment less effective and more expensive.

A lack of awareness and inadequate funding has hampered efforts to control cancer in Kenya. The Kenya National Cancer Control Strategy 2017-2022 aims to improve cancer prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and palliative care through a multi-sectoral approach. The strategy also aims to increase public awareness of cancer and improve access to cancer care services.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in Kenya. It is estimated that one in every 15 women in Kenya will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Breast cancer is also the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in Kenya.

Incidence and Prevalence

Breast cancer incidence rates in Kenya have been increasing over the years, with an estimated 5,985 new cases reported in 2020. The prevalence of breast cancer is higher in urban areas compared to rural areas, and it is more common in women over the age of 40.

Risk Factors

Several risk factors have been associated with breast cancer, including age, family history, genetic mutations, and hormonal imbalances. And lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption and lack of physical activity. Women who have had an early onset of menstruation or a late onset of menopause are also at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Screening and Diagnosis

Early detection of breast cancer is crucial for successful treatment. Women in Kenya are encouraged to undergo regular breast cancer screening, which includes mammography, breast ultrasound, and clinical breast examination. The diagnosis of breast cancer is confirmed through a biopsy, which involves the removal of a small tissue sample from the breast for laboratory testing.

Treatment Options

The treatment of breast cancer in Kenya depends on the stage and type of cancer. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or a combination of these treatments. In advanced cases, palliative care may be recommended to manage symptoms and improve the quality of life.

Overall, breast cancer is a serious health concern in Kenya, and it is important for women to be aware of the risk factors and undergo regular screening to detect the disease early.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancer affecting women in Kenya. It develops in the cells of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.

HPV and Cervical Cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection that is responsible for causing most cases of cervical cancer. HPV is spread through sexual contact with an infected person. Some strains of HPV can cause abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, which can eventually develop into cancer if left untreated.

Prevention and Vaccination

Preventing cervical cancer involves reducing the risk of HPV infection. This can be achieved through safe sex practices, such as using condoms, and by getting vaccinated against HPV. The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls between the ages of 9 and 14, but can also be given to women up to the age of 45.

Diagnostic Methods

Cervical cancer can be detected through a Pap test, which involves collecting cells from the cervix and examining them under a microscope. If abnormal cells are found, further testing may be required, such as a colposcopy or biopsy.

Treatment and Management

Treatment for cervical cancer depends on the stage of the cancer and may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments. Early detection of cervical cancer can greatly improve the chances of successful treatment and management. Regular Pap tests and HPV vaccinations can help reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer.

Prostate Cancer

Epidemiological Data

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among Kenyan men and the second most common cancer worldwide. According to the Kenya Cancer Registry, there were 2,435 new cases of prostate cancer in 2020, accounting for 14.1% of all cancer cases in men. The incidence rate of prostate cancer in Kenya is 19.5 per 100,000 men, which is slightly lower than the global incidence rate of 29.3 per 100,000 men.

Diagnostic Techniques

Early detection is critical for the successful treatment of prostate cancer. The most common diagnostic technique for prostate cancer is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. Abnormal PSA levels may indicate the presence of cancer, but further testing is required to confirm the diagnosis. Other diagnostic techniques include a digital rectal exam (DRE) and a prostate biopsy.

Treatment Strategies

The treatment of prostate cancer depends on the stage of the cancer and the overall health of the patient. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery and radiation therapy are the most common treatments for localized prostate cancer. Hormone therapy and chemotherapy are typically used for advanced prostate cancer.

Oesophageal Cancer

Oesophagal cancer is a type of cancer that affects the oesophagus, which is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. It is one of the most common types of cancer in Kenya, with a higher incidence rate in men than in women.

Risk Factors and Prevention

Several factors can increase the risk of developing oesophagal cancer, including smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, obesity, and a diet low in fruits and vegetables. To reduce the risk of developing oesophagal cancer, individuals should avoid smoking and limit their alcohol intake. They should also maintain a healthy weight and eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

Early Detection

Esophageal cancer can be difficult to detect in its early stages, as symptoms may not appear until the cancer has spread. However, individuals who experience difficulty swallowing, chest pain, or unexplained weight loss should see a doctor immediately. Early detection can improve the chances of successful treatment.

Therapeutic Approaches

Treatment options for oesophagal cancer depend on the stage of the cancer and the individual’s overall health. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are all common treatment options. In some cases, a combination of these treatments may be used. Palliative care may also be recommended to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

Overall, early detection and treatment are key to improving the prognosis for individuals with oesophagal cancer. By understanding the risk factors and taking steps to prevent the disease, individuals can reduce their risk of developing oesophagal cancer.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that affects the colon and rectum. It is one of the most common types of cancer in Kenya, with a high incidence rate in both men and women.

Incidence Rates

According to the Kenya Cancer Registry, colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in Kenya, accounting for 7.8% of all cancer cases. The incidence rate of colorectal cancer in Kenya is 7.2 per 100,000 population, with a higher incidence rate in urban areas than in rural areas.

Screening Programs

Screening for colorectal cancer is important because it can detect the cancer at an early stage when it is more treatable. The Kenya Ministry of Health recommends that people aged 50 and above undergo regular screening for colorectal cancer. The most common screening method is a colonoscopy, which is a procedure that allows the doctor to examine the colon and rectum for any abnormalities.

Surgical and Non-Surgical Treatments

The treatment for colorectal cancer depends on the stage of the cancer and other factors such as the patient’s age and overall health. Surgery is the main treatment for colorectal cancer, and it involves removing the cancerous tissue from the colon or rectum. In some cases, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be used in addition to surgery.

Non-surgical treatments such as targeted therapy and immunotherapy may also be used for advanced colorectal cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. These treatments work by targeting specific proteins or cells are involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells.

In conclusion, colorectal cancer is a common cancer in Kenya, but it can be detected early through regular screening and treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy. It is important for people to be aware of the risk factors for colorectal cancer and to undergo regular screening to detect the cancer at an early stage.

Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is a type of cancer that affects the lining of the stomach. It is one of the most common types of cancer in Kenya, with an estimated 6,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

There are several risk factors associated with stomach cancer, including a family history of the disease, a diet high in salted or smoked foods, and infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Symptoms of stomach cancer can include indigestion, nausea, and abdominal pain.

Treatment for stomach cancer typically involves surgery to remove the tumor, followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. However, the prognosis for stomach cancer can vary depending on the stage of the disease at diagnosis and the overall health of the patient.

To reduce the risk of developing stomach cancer, it is recommended to maintain a healthy diet, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and undergo regular screenings for Helicobacter pylori infection.

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is a common type of cancer that affects many Kenyan people. It is a disease that starts in the liver and can spread to the whole body. The liver is an important organ that helps to filter toxins from the body, produce bile, and store energy. When cancer cells grow in the liver, it can cause serious health problems.

Hepatitis and Liver Cirrhosis

Hepatitis and liver cirrhosis are two of the main causes of liver cancer in Kenya. Hepatitis is a viral infection that can cause inflammation of the liver. If left untreated, it can lead to liver cirrhosis, which is a condition where the liver becomes scarred and damaged. People with liver cirrhosis are at a higher risk of developing liver cancer.

Diagnostic Screening

Diagnostic screening is an important tool for detecting liver cancer early. Several tests can be used to diagnose liver cancer, including blood tests, imaging tests, and biopsy. Blood tests can help detect abnormal liver function, while imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI can help to identify tumours in the liver. Biopsy involves taking a small sample of liver tissue for examination under a microscope.

Treatment Modalities

Treatment for liver cancer depends on the stage of the disease and the patient’s overall health. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are common treatment modalities used to treat liver cancer. Surgery involves removing the cancerous tumor from the liver, while chemotherapy and radiation therapy use drugs and radiation to kill cancer cells. In some cases, a liver transplant may be necessary to treat liver cancer.

In conclusion, liver cancer is a serious disease that affects many Kenyan people. Hepatitis and liver cirrhosis are two of the main causes of liver cancer, and early detection through diagnostic screening is important for successful treatment. Treatment modalities include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and liver transplant.

Lymphomas

Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is responsible for fighting infections in the body. In Kenya, Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma are the two most common types of lymphoma. Hodgkin Lymphoma is characterized by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, which are large, abnormal cells in the lymph nodes. On the other hand, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a diverse group of lymphomas that do not have Reed-Sternberg cells.

Diagnostic Criteria

The Lymphoma diagnosis involves a combination of physical examination, medical history, and diagnostic tests such as biopsy, blood tests, and imaging studies. The diagnostic criteria for Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma differ. Hodgkin Lymphoma is characterized by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma is classified based on the type of lymphocyte involved.

Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy

Treatment for lymphoma typically involves a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells, while radiotherapy uses high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells. The specific treatment plan for lymphoma depends on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health.

In conclusion, lymphomas are a common cancer affecting the Kenyan population. Early detection and prompt treatment can improve the chances of survival for patients with Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Leukemia

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It is a common cancer disease affecting the Kenyan people. It is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells that do not function properly, leading to a weakened immune system.

There are four main types of leukemia: acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). The symptoms of leukemia vary depending on the type but can include fatigue, fever, night sweats, and easy bruising or bleeding.

Treatment for leukemia depends on the type and severity of the disease. It may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplantation. The treatment success depends on several factors, including the type and stage of leukemia, the patient’s age and overall health, and their response to treatment.

It is important for individuals to be aware of the early signs and symptoms of leukemia and to seek medical attention if they experience any of these symptoms. Early detection and treatment can improve the chances of a successful outcome.

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Public Health Strategies

Cancer Awareness Campaigns

Cancer awareness campaigns are an important public health strategy in Kenya. These campaigns aim to educate the public on the signs and symptoms of cancer, and the importance of early detection and treatment. The campaigns are often led by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government agencies and are conducted through various media channels, including television, radio, and social media.

The campaigns also aim to reduce the stigma associated with cancer, which can prevent individuals from seeking medical help.

National Cancer Control Programs

Kenya has a National Cancer Control Program (NCCP) that aims to reduce the scourage of cancer in the country. The NCCP is a comprehensive program that includes prevention, early detection, treatment, and palliative care. The program is implemented through a multi-sectoral approach, involving government agencies, NGOs, and the private sector.

The NCCP has several key components, including cancer screening programs, cancer treatment centres, and a cancer registry. The cancer registry collects data on cancer cases in the country, which is used to inform cancer prevention and control strategies.

In addition to the NCCP, Kenya has also developed a National Cancer Screening Guidelines document, which guides the implementation of cancer screening programs in the country.

.Through these strategies, Kenya is working towards improving cancer outcomes and reducing the impact of cancer on individuals and families.

Research and Development

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are a vital component of cancer research and development. These trials are conducted to test new treatments, therapies, and drugs that have the potential to cure or improve the quality of life for cancer patients. In Kenya, clinical trials are carried out by various institutions, including the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), the Aga Khan University Hospital, and the Nairobi Hospital.

Clinical trials are conducted in phases, each phase involving a different number of participants and a different level of scrutiny. Phase I trials involve a small number of participants and are primarily focused on determining the safety of the treatment. Phase II trials involve a larger group of participants and it’s to assess the effectiveness of the treatment. Phase III trials involve an even larger group of participants and are designed to compare the effectiveness of the new treatment to the standard of care.

Cancer Research Institutions in Kenya

Kenya has several institutions that are dedicated to cancer research and development. These institutions are involved in various aspects of cancer research, including the development of new treatments, the study of risk factors, and the development of screening and prevention strategies.

One of the leading cancer research institutions in Kenya is the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). KEMRI is a government-funded institution that conducts research on various diseases, including cancer. The institute has several research centres across the country and collaborates with other institutions both locally and internationally.

Another institution that is involved in cancer research in Kenya is the Aga Khan University Hospital. The hospital has a dedicated cancer centre that provides comprehensive cancer care, including diagnosis, treatment, and research. The centre is staffed by a team of oncologists, radiologists, and other specialists who work together to provide personalized care to each patient.

Support and Palliative Care

Patient Support Groups

Cancer can be a very isolating and distressing experience for patients and their families. Patient support groups are a great way for cancer patients to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. The groups offer a safe and supportive environment where patients can share their feelings, experiences, and concerns with others who understand what they are going through. These groups also provide emotional support, practical advice, and information about cancer treatments and services.

There are many patient support groups available in Kenya that cater to different types of cancer. Some of the most popular ones include the Kenya Cancer Association, Faraja Cancer Support Trust, and Hope for Cancer Kids.

Palliative Care Services

Palliative care is an approach that focuses on improving the quality of life of cancer patients and their families. It involves the management of pain and other symptoms, as well as the provision of emotional and spiritual support. Palliative care services are available in many hospitals and hospices in Kenya.

The Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association is an organization that provides training and support to healthcare professionals who work in palliative care. They also provide information and resources to patients and families who are seeking palliative care services.

Conclusion

Overall, early detection and treatment are key to improving the prognosis for individuals with any form of cancer. By understanding the risk factors and taking steps to prevent the disease, individuals can reduce their risk of their cancer spreading.

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