Apart from breast cancer, the alarming cancer type killing Kenyans – KNH expert explains

It's linked to mursik

Cancer on the rise(doctoroz)

When was the last time you went for cancer screening? In Kenya, cancer is the third killer disease after infections and cardiovascular diseases as per the Kenya Cancer Network.

In most cases, people go for breast, prostate and cervix uteri cancer screening.

While going for regular screening is a very important step towards the fight against cancer, more awareness still needs to be done regarding other types of cancers.  

Esophagus Cancer

For instance, who would have thought that Esophagus cancer is among the leading types of cancer in Kenya? According to World Health Organization report in 2017, Esophagus cancer was the leading killer cancer type with 4,351 deaths followed by Cervix Uteri 3,286 and Breast cancer 2,553. 

In the 2018 Globocan report, esophagus cancer was ranked the third leading cancer in Kenya. According to the report, about 47,887 Kenyans get cancer annually and 32,987 die from the disease.

Top 5 leading cancers in 2018 (Globocan report) 

1. Breast cancer - 29%

2. Cervix uteri - 25%

3. Cancer of esophagus - 21%

4. Prostate cancer - 14%

5. Colorectum - 11%

Pulselive.co.ke, caught up with Dr. Catherine Naliaka Nyongesa, who is a Consultant Clinical and Radiation Oncologist, the CEO of Texas Cancer Centre and Head, Cancer Treatment Centre, Kenyatta National Hospital.

It's not exactly clear what causes esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer occurs when cells in your esophagus develop errors (mutations) in their DNA. The errors make cells grow and divide out of control,” Dr. Naliaka states.

Signs and Symptoms

She tells this journalist that one of the symptoms and early warning signs is that the patient feels like the food is getting stuck in the throat or chest (dysphagia). It is often mild when it starts, and then gets progressively worsens over time as the opening inside the esophagus gets smaller as the tumor grows.

Apart from dysphagia, unexpected weight loss, worsening indigestion or heartburn, bleeding into the esophagus and chronic coughs are other symptoms that one should check out for.

How can one detect Esophagus cancer?

An individual should go for cancer screening and diagnosis. The doctor may recommend using a scope to examine your esophagus (endoscopy) to look for cancer or areas of irritation. Then he will collect a sample of tissue for testing (biopsy). The tissue sample is sent to a laboratory to look for cancer cells.

Is there hope or treatment for those who are already affected?

Yes, the treatments for esophageal cancer are based on the type of cells involved, stage in development of the disease, your overall health and ones preferences for treatment.

Surgery to remove the cancer can be used alone or in combination with other treatments: Radiotherapy, Chemotherapy and Brachytherapy.

What steps can be taken to reduce chances of contracting Cancer?

While it’s not exactly clear what causes esophageal cancer, there are steps each individual can take to reduce the chances of contracting, especially smoking. I would advice one to quit smoking if you’ve already started.

Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, don’t overdo it. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

You can also eat more fruits and vegetables and maintain a healthy weight.

Mursik or traditional milk has been linked to esophagus cancer. How accurate is that?

We suspect a bacteria in the traditionally fermented milk but this is still under research so we cannot say authoritatively that the traditional drink is carcinogenic.

What strides has Kenya made towards the fight of cancer?

The Government has really tried especially after putting health in President Uhuru Kenyatta's big 4 agenda.

The expanding of oncology services at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) Eldoret and KNH constructing a cancer centre of excellence as well as having NHIF Scheme supporting cancer patients by paying for surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy though this is not a comprehensive cover.

As we conclude our interview, Dr Naliaka mentions that though many people know about cancer, most of them fear screening. She also recommended all County hospitals for screening of cancer especially Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), St Marys Langata, Tenwek hospital and Kijabe.


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