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Thursday, 11 February 2021

Early diagnosis, a sure way to beat cancer

 

When Esther Mwachofi started exhibiting symptoms of pregnancy 10 years ago, it never crossed her mind that the pains she was experiencing were a sign of cancer.

What bothered her is that she had an implant that was due in three years, and it eventually dawned on her that it could not be pregnancy.

She had no idea that one of her ovaries had mutated and turned cancerous. She felt no symptoms.

“When I sought medical attention in Voi, doctors said I was pregnant. However, further examination revealed that my left ovary had swollen,” the mother of two told the Star in an interview.

She would later be referred to Coast General Hospital in Mombasa, where she underwent surgery to remove the growth.

In October 2010, Esther was operated on and a gynaecologist assured her that the swelling had no further implications.

“Six months later, when I was undergoing a normal clinic, another swelling was diagnosed on my right. I underwent a second operation to remove it,” she said.

It is after the second operation that her life took another worrying twist. She developed severe abdominal pain.

“I could hardly pass urine. The pain was so sharp that I had to be admitted for fresh examination,” Esther said.

Fresh test confirmed her months of fear and assumption. The newly married woman was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer of the cervix.

Her husband and family were a strong pillar in these trying times. With their strong support, she steadily recovered her health.

“Cancer patients are hot-tempered. My family accommodated me and gave me a lot of support during my medication. God is good, I overcame,” she said.

Had it been detected early, the cancer survivor says, she would have been treated faster and at a cheaper cost.

Some 32,000 out of 47,000 Kenyans who get cancer every year die from the disease
The Star / MARTIN FUNDI

REGULAR SCREENING

Research by the World Health Organisation warns that almost half of people diagnosed with cancer at a late stage have minimal chances of survival.

Sadly, most patients with cancer get the diagnosis when it has advanced to stage 3 or 4.

It is for this reason that Esther has been educating people to undergo regular testing. She said the government should invest in renewed efforts to spot the disease more quickly to win the war on cancer.

“The disease is treatable if discovered early. I always attend day care sessions to talk to cancer patients as well as encouraging people to get tested,” she said.

Currently, Esther attends examination and consultation sessions at the newly opened Cancer Centre in Moi County Referral Hospital, Voi, Taita Taveta county.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Kenya after infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The most-reported cancers are breast cancer, cervical cancer, oesophagus and prostate cancer. Others are stomach cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer.

Annually, the country records 47,887 new cases of cancer and 32,987 deaths from all types of cancer combined.

The NCI says children under 18 are more prone to leukemia, which is most common among children. Kidney, brain and nasopharynx cancers are also common among children.

An estimated 60 per cent of Kenyans affected by cancer are younger than 70 years old.

Just like Esther, Jael Mwandoe was diagnosed with cancer of the breast at stage 3. She was forced to travel from her Mwatate home to Nairobi for treatment.

The 47-year-old says her late diagnosis was as a result of ignorance.

“I guess it’s my fault. I ignored a small pimple on my left breast. Eventually the pimple became painful over time, and my husband advised we go for testing,” she said. It is from that testing that the cancer was confirmed.

The mother of four says besides the painful treatment of the ailment, there is a lot of stigma from the community as many people associate cancer with witchcraft. Some of her family members isolated her due to the condition.

She spoke to the Star at Moi Hospital in Voi, where she has been referred for treatment.

“Family members will get a reason to hate you and isolate you for no reason. My husband has been so supportive, though,” she said.

Jael says through her awareness talks, she has influenced many people to go for screening.

MEDICAL COVER

Following the surging cases of cancer and other chronic ailments in Taita Taveta, the devolved unit is set to unveil a free medical insurance cover.

Health Services executive John Mwakima said the cover will entail enrolling the most vulnerable residents into the NHIF medical insurance.

"Now that the socioeconomic burden of cancer and other chronic diseases is worsening, we have planned to intervene by enrolling the most vulnerable residents into the NHIF medical insurance. This is a major relief to households managing these cases," he said.

He said the programme, called 'Afya Bora Mashinani', aims to help 22,000 households enrol with NHIF to access medical services without undergoing financial hardship.

The move was prompted by the increasing number of patients seeking treatment at the county’s cancer centre.

“Residents who have been travelling to Mombasa and Nairobi in search of cancer management and treatment have begun undergoing chemotherapy sessions at the centre,” he said.

The centre was launched last year through a partnership of the county government with Empower, County First Ladies Association, Roche, Africa Cancer Foundation and Women 4 Cancer Early Detection and Treatment.

The fully equipped Empower Cancer Clinic is expected to play a vital role in early detection and management of cancer.

International Cancer Institute has been holding free cancer screening at the centre, a key way to ensure early detection and diagnosis of cancer.

Mwakima said the county is pursuing more partnerships to improve comprehensive medical services to residents.

Those diagnosed at an early stage have the best chance of management and treatment, hence long-term survival.

Dr Rebecca Mwakichako, the oncologist in-charge of the cancer centre, said a total of 40 patients are being treated in the facility.

"We have enrolled patients who have been seeking treatment for cancer and other related ailments outside the county in our cancer center. This has helped a lot in reducing the cost of treatment,” she said.

His troubles began with appetite loss, stomach pain, weakness and weight loss

SCREENING

Dr Mwakichako said among women, cervical and breast cancers are more prevalent, while most men are at higher risk of prostate cancer.

She said diagnosing cancer at its earliest stages, before it has had a chance to spread to other parts of the body, is the only sure way to beat the disease.

"Once a cancer has spread, there are lower chances of survival. Regular screening is highly advised," she said.

As a way of eliminating cervical cancer, she said the centre is focusing on immunising sexually active girls against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a virus that causes cancer of the cervix.

Over 1,000 doses of the HPV vaccine are still lying idle at the facility, which calls for more awareness to generate demand.

Kenya introduced the HPV vaccine in October 2019, targeting 800,000 girls to protect them against the cancer-causing virus. However, only about 360,000 girls have been vaccinated after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the process.

HPV is the number-one cause of cancer in women between the ages of 15 and 44. It is the leading cause of female cancer deaths. It kills nine women every day, about 3,000 every year.

An estimated 5,250 new cases of cancer of cervix are diagnosed in Kenya every year.

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