Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Cancer is not a death sentence, experts allay fears

According to records from the Ministry of Health, cancer is the third leading cause of death in Kenya.

In 2020 alone, the country reported 42,000 new cancer cases and 27,000 cancer-related deaths.

But even with these scary statistics, there is still hopes that the country can triumph against this menace which has become a major public health concern, placing a great burden on families, communities, and the health system.

Experts say prevention and early detection and treatment have proved to work against the disease.

It is much better preventing cancer through vaccination or regular screening than regretting later in life when complicated and costly. Late discovery of cancer means the disease-causing germs (cancerous cells) have embedded itself to advanced stages making treatment complicated and much expensive

Benda Kithaka, Executive Director at Health Association

Benda Kithaka, Executive Director at Health Association says routine screening is the best way to detect cancer at early stages of its development for easy treatment.

This is because cancer usually starts with signs and symptoms that can last up to 10 years or more before going into full blown cancer.

“Screening for cervical cancer is recommended for women aged 25 to 49 years because majority of them are at their prime reproductive ages. Although even women at aged 50 to 65 are also at risk of cervical cancer,” Kithaka explains.

Vaccination

On the other hand, cancer vaccination for teenage girls aged between 10 to 14 is highly commended to boost the body’s immune system against cancer.

“It is much better preventing cancer through vaccination or regular screening than regretting later in life when complicated and costly. Late discovery of cancer means the disease-causing germs (cancerous cells) have embedded itself to advanced stages making treatment complicated and much expensive,” she adds.

Her sentiments are echoed by Dr Mary Wangai, a Health Technical Advisor at Kilele Health Association who says early detection would help thwart its progression of the disease.

About 70 per cent of all cervical cancer cases reported throughout the world are caused by two types of HPV; 16 and 18. Unfortunately, most HPV infections do not cause any symptoms and therefore most people never know they are infected and until screened

Dr Mary Wangai, a Health Technical Advisor at Kilele Health Association 

Dr Wangai regrets that misinformation and misconception with myths, cultural and religious believes taking toll in social media are misleading.

She explains cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with one or more of the high-risk types of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

The virus is sexually transmitted among men and women and infects the cells of the opening of womb also known as cervix hence referred as cervical cancer.

“About 70 per cent of all cervical cancer cases reported throughout the world are caused by two types of HPV; 16 and 18. Unfortunately, most HPV infections do not cause any symptoms and therefore most people never know they are infected and until screened,” Dr Wangai explains.

The HPV 16 is considered one of the most powerful human carcinogens, causing 5% per cent of all cancers. Although there are more than 100 types of HPV; 13 of them are responsible for cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anogenital and oropharynx cancers.

Triumph against cancer

Joan Wangare is cervical cancer survivor and is now a champion advocating for cervical cancer screening, prevention and treatment.

She went through pain but with determination she overcame the disease.

Judy Wanyoike survived cervical and lungs cancers, debunking misconception and misinformation that it is a death sentence.

Her testimony of survival over 10 years later, affirms to the public that when cancer is detected early, prevention and treatment is possible.  

The duo survivors reiterate cervical cancer has early symptoms and signs that can be spotted and should not be assumed; blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods; menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual and bleeding during or after intercourse.

Others are; bleeding after pelvic exam; pelvic pain; backache; increased vaginal discharge; pain during sexual intercourse; bleeding after menopause among others.

The HPV is passed through genital (skin-to-skin) contact, most often during vaginal or anal sex. HPV also can be passed on during oral sex.

Most people never even know they have HPV, or that they are passing it to a sexual partner. HPV is so common that most people get it soon after they start having sex. All women who have had sex are at risk for HPV and cervical cancer.

Having multiple sexual partners or having a sexual partner with multiple sexual partners, simultaneous infection by multiple pathogen species (coinfection), immunosuppression due to HIV/AIDS infection, tobacco use among others.

Currently, cervical cancer is rated as the ninth cause of deaths globally and highest disease burden in Sub-Saharan Africa. Locally, in Kenya, cervical cancer is the leading cause of deaths, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has set targets of cervical cancer suppression.

Kenya now joins the WHO strategy 90-70-90 target of at least 90 per cent of all girls aged 15 years are fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine, while 70 per cent of women screened using a high-performance test and 90 per cent of women identified with cervical disease treated. Locally, this may realize up to four million women and girls by 2027.

This calls for effective advocacy to make change, influence decision-makers to increase investment in cervical cancer resources, planning and funding at the national and county level. It also calls for decisive action that carries substantial, cost-effective benefits to the patients and families.

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