Saturday, March 2, 2024

Stop the myth, save the world: Cancer is not caused by witchcraft

Persistent myths and misconceptions on cancer treatment treatment.

Kenyan Network of Cancer Organizations (KENCO) an umbrella body of organizations fighting cancer says if not checked, the myths could be deadly.

According to the network, some people in rural areas continue to link the disease to witchcraft.

This, the organization says, is negatively impacting on diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

The network claims that many cancer patients are being lured to take concoctions, herbal drugs, and eating certain parts of rodent species or wild fruits for cure.  

cancer is not caused by witchcraft or any form of supernatural forces. Cancer is a disease that can affect anyone, anywhere, in any country, at any time. Cancer is a complex group of diseases with many possible causes.

Dr Mbuki

Observations have shown that many of those who peddle the myth prefer soursop fruits, sugarapple, sweetsop, or custard apple fruits which are alleged to be effective in eliminating cancer.

But cancer experts warn that there is no scientific research to prove the allegation so far.

KENCO has been working with patients, families, groups, and community-based cancer organizations on the ailment. 

This is done through cancer awareness, education, screening, prevention and patient support in Kenya and East Africa.

Kisumu Governor Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o addressing a past cancer forum. The Governor has been a cancer champion after he made public his cancer status. (Photo: Courtesy)

Rising cancer cases

The caution against the myths comes at a time cases of cancer have been on the rise among different ages and economic classes.

Dr Boniface Mbuki, the Director of Cancer Awareness Centre says thousands of patients from Kenya and East Africa sought cancer treatment in India.

This, he says is an expensive affair in terms of air ticket, hospital bills, among other requirement.

There are different risks to different people for different cancers. Some cancers are known to pass down families’ hereditary like breast, ovary, colorectal/intestinal and pancreatic cancer

Dr Mbuki

It is for this reason that the American Cancer Society Strengthening Organizations for a United Response to the Cancer Epidemic (SOURCE) Program, launched its branch in Kenya 2016 anchored at KENCO to support Africans.

The goal of the program is to strengthen cancer organizations and networks working in low-and-middle income countries.

This is to help implement a more effective and collaborative response to the local cancer burden. 

Different cancers

According to Dr Mbuki, it is a comprehensive competency-based training and technical assistance program designed to strengthen the systems.

These include technicalities, financial and human resources of participating cancer organizations, wherever they are in their development process.

“There are different risks to different people for different cancers. Some cancers are known to pass down families’ hereditary like breast, ovary, colorectal/intestinal and pancreatic cancer,” Dr Mbuki explains.

“Therefore, those who have had a family member who has had such cancer would benefit from screening to assess risk and enable us to take necessary measures at early stage to prevent cancer,” he adds. 

Other cancers are associated with age, viruses and lifestyle like smoking, stress, alcohol, bad sexual habits and diet for example, lung cancer, skin cancer, throat (nasopharyngeal), cervical cancer, and food pipe (oesophageal) cancer.

For those with normal risk, there are guidelines for when specific screening ought to be done to detect and prevent common cancers.

The Cancer Treatment Center offers screening programs that address cancer concerns for individuals at affordable cost.

Dr Mbuki said some tumours grow and enlarge only at the site where they begin and these are referred to as benign tumours.

Others not only enlarge locally, but also have the potential to invade and destroy surrounding normal tissue and to spread to distant parts of the body.

These are called malignant tumours or cancers.

“Let me also explain that, instant spread of a cancer occurs when malignant cells become detached from the original (primary) tumour, get carried to other parts of the body and establish themselves in the new site as an independent (secondary) cancer,’’ Dr Mbuki says.

A tumour that has spread in this manner is said to have metastasized and the secondary tumour(s) is called a metastasis (or metastases).

“However, not all cancers form solid tumours. For example, in cancer of the blood cells (leukaemia) many abnormal blood cells are made in the bone marrow and circulate in the bloodstream,” Dr Mbuki clarified.

He says cancer is not caused by witchcraft or any form of supernatural forces. Cancer is a disease that can affect anyone, anywhere, in any country, at any time. Cancer is a complex group of diseases with many possible causes.

Other causes of cancer

Dr Philip Odiyo says other known causes of cancer include genetic factors, lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, diet and physical inactivity. 

“Some viruses are linked to certain cancers. For instance, those with persistent infection with the Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C virus have an increased risk of developing cancer of the liver,” he says.

The age could be a contributing factor because the older you are, the more likely that you will develop a cancer. This is probably due to a buildup of damage to cells in the body over time

Dr Odiyo

Another major cause of the disease is environmental exposures to different types of chemicals and radiation.

“The age could be a contributing factor because the older you are, the more likely that you will develop a cancer. This is probably due to a buildup of damage to cells in the body over time,” Dr Odiyo added.

Also, the body’s defenses and resistance against abnormal cells may become weaker as one gets older.

Those with a compromised immune system have an increased risk of developing certain cancers.

For example, people with HIV/AIDS, or people on immunosuppressive treatment are most likely to suffer from cancer. 

Taking lots of protective foods such as fruits help boost body immune systems hence reduce chances of developing cancer.

According to Dr Maureen Momanyi, the most common phrases in the misconceptions about cancer are that; Cancer is a death sentence, Cancer is witchcraft, Cancer can be cured by herbal treatment including concoctions and chang’aa (illicit brews).

She says some communities believe that cancer is a punishment or curse from God caused by breaking some rules.

“You know the seriousness of cancer. You know the toll it takes mentally, emotionally, financially, spiritually, and physically,” Dr. Mamanyi sympathized.

Together with myths and misconceptions, many patients die due to discouragements and propaganda in the community they live.

Dr Momanyi advises, to dispel these myths and misconceptions about cancer, there is need to talk about cancer freely.

“As a community, we can break the stigma of Cancer, and fight cancer together! Don’t wait, act now!” she says.

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