People Daily: This year’s World Cancer Day, whose theme is “We Can, I Can”, is being marked today with statistics on the number of people the disease kills every year getting more depressing. 

According to the Health Cabinet secretary Cleopas Mailu, cancer is the third killer disease in Kenya after infectious and cardiovascular diseases. It is estimated that, every year, the country loses 28,000 people to cancer. “This translates to about 76 persons per day. The daily deaths from cancer are equivalent to five 14-seater matatus crashing and killing everyone on board per day, every day, all year round,” Dr Mailu said on Tuesday at a media breakfast meeting. 
He added: “Further, more than 70 per cent of them are below 70 years of age thereby taking a significant toll on the productivity of this country and impacting negatively on individual families.” 

But more worrying is the fact that over 80 per cent of reported cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage when very little can be done to manage the disease. This is because there is low awareness on the signs and symptoms. Additionally there are social-cultural beliefs and practices, inadequate screening services and ill-equipped facilities that hamper early diagnosis. Further, the few available cancer specialists are concentrated in and around Nairobi making it difficult for the majority of people to access cancer management services,” the CS said. 

There are only four radiation oncologists, six medical oncologists, four pediatric oncologists, five radiation therapy technologists, three oncology nurses and two medical physicists. The situation is worsened by few and poorly distributed cancer facilities. The country has only four radiation centers, all located in Nairobi. They are at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), MP Shah, Nairobi Hospital and Aga Khan Hospital. 

According to the Kenya Network of Cancer Organizations (KNCO), cancer globally causes more deaths than HIV/Aids, TB and malaria combined. However, 70 per cent of the global cancer burden is in low and middle income countries like Kenya. 

Thirty per cent of cancers are curable if detected early; 30 per cent are treatable with prolonged survival if detected early while 30 per cent of patients can be provided with adequate symptom management and palliative care, the statistics show. Osophageal cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men in Kenya while in women, cervical cancer is the leading killer, according to a study published last year by the Global Burden of Cancer 2013. 
The study conducted by an international consortium of researchers and coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington revealed that oesophageal cancer claimed 1,423 lives in 2013, while cervical cancer killed 2,007. 
In 2013, there were 14.9 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer deaths worldwide. Globally, the leading cause of cancer in men was prostate cancer, which caused 1.4 million new cases and 293,000 deaths. As for women, breast cancer was responsible for 1.8 million new cases and 464,000 deaths. 
As part of the efforts to contain the cancer crisis, the Ministry of Health is currently implementing the National Cancer Control Strategy which provides a roadmap to promote cancer control and management through a variety of interventions. 
“It aims to advance cancer prevention and control through early detection, improved diagnosis and treatment including palliative care. The strategy also aims to promote cancer surveillance, establishment of cancer registries and research,” Mailu said. 

The government has established the National Cancer Institute as provided for by the Cancer Prevention and Control Act 2012. Besides providing MRI machines in 21 county hospitals and 11 mammography equipment for county referral hospitals, the government is planning to establish three regional comprehensive cancer centers to complement the ones at KNH and at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH). 

“In addition, the KNH Oncology teams conduct outreaches cancer clinics on a monthly basis in Mombasa, Nyeri and Kisumu county referral hospitals,” said the CS. Recently the government has bought and installed a new radiotherapy machine known as a linear accelerator at KNH that is able to cater for more patients. “I am happy to say that patients are already benefitting from the installation of this new machine. Plans are still underway for the establishment of new cancer center at Kenyatta Hospital,” Mailu said. 

The CS also revealed that the MTRH has completed the construction of Chronic Care Centre, which will house cancer management facilities.