By Anyang’ Nyong’o
While opening the Oncology and Cancer Centre at the Nairobi Hospital on Tuesday this past week, President Kibaki made a passionate plea to Kenyans to be aware of the tremendous increase in cancer in Kenya.
He went further to advice Kenyans to try and avoid life style choices that may make the body vulnerable to cancer, such as heavy drinking, eating fatty foods, not exercising and smoking. Both the poor and the rich are candidates of cancer of one type or the other at any time; the most important thing is to know how to avoid being vulnerable.
But the President also observed that there are certain types of cancer whose causes are known; and others that are likely to visit us with age. Men, for example, are more likely to get prostate cancer the older they become. Thus after the age of 45, all men are advised to know their Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) levels to be sure they are free from prostate cancer.
The PSA test is carried out by taking a blood test just like testing for malaria. The test should show the extent to which tumors are present or not present in the prostate gland. It is advisable that once every year men go for PSA tests to ensure they are on the safe side of the prostate cancer menace.
Likewise sexually active women over the age of 18 are also prone to get cervical cancer. Up to very recently the Pap smear was the only known and reliable test for detecting this cancer in the woman’s private part. Currently, however, medical science and technology has produced instruments for measuring cervical cancer more efficiently and even before it shows its presence in the private part.
When cancer is detected early it is easily treatable. When it is left to linger in the body too long it tends to spread and attack many other organs and parts of the body, thus becoming rather difficult to eliminate.
Because Kenyans do not know how to recognise the early signs of any cancer, and because when they go to primary health facilities even the health workers themselves do not know how to diagnose and give advice on cancer, we have had this tragic state of affairs where people arrive at the Kenyatta National Hospital or Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital when there is very little the specialists there can do.
We therefore need more diagnostic facilities in our country with more trained health workers using them and helping our people.
This requires urgent and heavy public investment in our health system. At the same time we need Kenyans to be aware of the menace of cancer and to take preventive measures to live healthy lives.
The Africa Cancer Foundation has organised a one-day conference at the Kenyatta International Conference Center on July 17 beginning at 9 am to bring together health practitioners and wananchi to discuss what procedures and regulations are needed in our health delivery system for diagnosing, treating and taking care of cancer.
At the moment such regulations exist in bits and pieces here and there and in different health facilities. We need national guidelines, which can be used by any health practitioner at any level to avoid misdiagnosis and mistreatment.