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Effects of throat cancer 

The Oncologist, Dr. Samuel  Charo based at Narok Referral Hospital Cancer Unit attending to a cancer patient. Photo  by  KNA.




Chronic  illnesses have been on the rise in the world, with the most fatal ones being cancer, diabetes and various heart diseases.

It is expected that the annual cancer cases will rise from 14 million in 2012 to 22 million in the world within the next two decades.

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, more than 60 per cent of the world’s total new annual cases of chronic illnesses occur in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. These regions account for 70 per cent of the world’s cancer deaths.

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. However, not all tumors are cancerous, as some of them do not spread to other parts of the body.

Possible signs and symptoms of the disease include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss and a change in bowel movements.

The Kenya situation

Kenya, like many other African countries, has not been spared the challenges of these chronic diseases with cancer being the third highest cause of mortality in Kenya, accounting for approximately seven per cent of deaths per year, after infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases.

According to a report on the Ministry of Health website on cancer, there are approximately 39,000 new cases of cancer in Kenya each year with more than 27, 000 deaths being reported each year. About 60 per cent of the Kenyans affected by cancer are less than 70 years old.

In Kenya, between 2010 and 2015, the rate of people dying from cancer increased from about 31 deaths per 100, 000 people to 33 deaths per 100, 000 people and daily cancer deaths have been increasing steadily since 2012.

Cancer deaths also increased steadily over the five years from 11,995 in 2010 to 14 175 in 2015, representing an increase of 18 per cent in five years.

An Oncologist, Dr. Samuel Charo based at Narok Referral Hospital Cancer Unit says perhaps the current data which showed increase in cancer cases was due to better diagnostic equipment and facilities available in our hospitals today, leading to more cases being revealed.

There are many types of cancers but the leading categories in Kenya for women include lung, colorectal, breast and cervical cancer with the last two being the most common, affecting 34, 000 and 25, 000 women, respectively.

Men on the other hand are mainly victims of lung, stomach, colorectal, prostate and esophageal cancers that affect 17, 000 and 9, 000 men respectively.

Lately, throat cancers are becoming common in the world and in the country.

Another oncologist, Carol  Mwangi says the disease is characterized by persistent soreness of the throat and difficulties in eating and swallowing.

She further says heavy smokers and drinkers for example, those people who take strong alcoholic drinks such as chang`aa and spirits were disposed towards cancer of the throat and other cancers such as the lung.

“It can affect the lining of the throat where cells degenerate and become abnormal and prone to cancer,” she says.

Causes of cancer

Medics say cancer could be caused by tobacco which contributes to 22 per cent of cancer deaths, while 10 per cent could be caused by obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity and drinking of alcohol. Exposure to ionizing radiation and environmental pollutants has also been found to cause cancer to some extent.

But some cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia could be genetic. Cancer patients face numerous challenges which include lack of treatment and cancer facilities, lack of awareness, inadequate diagnostic facilities, high cost of treatments and mostly, high poverty index in the country.

Dr. Charo concurs, saying there were only two cancer treatment centres in Kenya at the Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Referral Hospital in Eldoret and these were ill-equipped and not adequate to handle all cancer patients in the country.

“You will find that a patient is booked for treatment so many months after diagnosis and this is what is killing cancer patients because the longer a patient stays without treatment, the more the disease spreads and becomes difficult to manage,” he says.

The medic says the number of oncologists in the country was also very low compared to the number of patients they were supposed to attend to, and most of them were concentrated in Nairobi and Eldoret, hence the need to train more doctors.

According to Dr. Charo, the risks of cancer increases significantly with age and many cancers occur more commonly in developed countries. Rates are increasing as more people live to an old age and risks of cancer increase as lifestyle changes occur in the developing world.

“It seems to me that breast cancer in Kenya and the rest of Africa is not getting the recognition it deserves. Moreover, the level of breast cancer awareness in Kenya is low” says Dr. Charo.

He adds that according to the Kenya cancer survey, four in five cases of cancer are diagnosed in the late stages of the disease. Review of the health data shows that the rate of death from cancer in Kenya is far outpacing population growth and may double in the next 11 years.

“The data also shows that cancer is now the third leading cause of death in Kenya and is threatening to move further up the list of top killers in the coming decade. Cancer like diabetes and heart diseases is a non-communicable disease, which means it cannot be spread from one person to another,” adds Dr. Charo.

Prevention and treatment of Cancer

Sadly, all kinds of cancers, including throat cancer do not have treatment but are often treated with some combination of radiation therapy, surgery chemotherapy and targeted therapy with pain and symptom management being an important part of care.

In Narok, Kenya News Agency met 60-year-old, Peter Ole Senteu (not his real name after the family sought anonymity) from Talek area in Narok South. Senteu was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014 and has been living with it ever since, while undergoing chemotherapy several times a month.

His daughter, Nantilei Senteu (also not her real name) says her father requires over Sh.2.7million for specialized treatment in India but the family has been unable to raise this amount.

The family is now calling on well-wishers to come out and assist him raise this amount in order to save his life.

He currently requires over Sh.100, 000 every month for his drugs and chemotherapy treatment.

The family is also calling upon the government to invest more in cancer treatment by coming up with a properly equipped cancer hospital, saying this would help affected patients access better, faster and cheaper treatment instead of travelling abroad.

But cancer could be prevented by avoiding smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking too much alcohol, eating plenty of vegetables, fruit and whole grains, vaccination against certain infectious diseases including human papillomavirus (HPV), not eating too much processed food and red meat and actually avoiding too much sunlight exposure.

Early detection through screening is useful for cancer victims, and even with late stage of the disease, suffering among patients could be relieved with good palliative care.

There are several hospices in the country that have been helping to give this palliative care to the patients who are in last stages of cancer.

However, it’s not all gloom as the country is set to construct the first ever state of the art cancer treatment centre after President Uhuru Kenyatta recently signed an agreement with the Indian government for the same.

This is definitely a welcome move as it would go a long way in ensuring early treatment and diagnosis of cancer thus saving lives.

By  Mabel Keya-Shikuku/Angela Nampaso

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