Alarm over prostate cancer hitting Kenyan men

Prostate cancer is among the top three killer cancers in Kenya but low awareness about the disease among Kenyan men has been blamed for undermining efforts to combat it.

This comes as the country seeks to scale up the fight against various common cancers after the recently-concluded "Stop Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancer in Africa" Conference in Nairobi.

Director of Medical Services Dr Nicholas Muraguri lamented that many Kenyans who are at risk of getting prostate cancer ? men above 50 years ? are largely unaware of it and how to protect themselves through screening and treatment.

According to the Ministry of Health's cancer guidelines, prostate cancer is the most common cancer  afflicting men, with at least 1,000 new cases reported each year, while deaths stand at around 850 annually. The numbers could be higher since many often go unreported.

"With screening, this cancer can be diagnosed early enough if it is there. But since many people are not aware of it, they are not vigilant in protecting themselves. We will enhance awareness campaigns about prostate cancer," he said.

A state-of-the-art radiation therapy machine which will help in treating a number of cancer types including prostate cancer. Going for regular screening is encouraged in men to ensure early detection and treatment. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

The cancer affects the prostate gland which produces fluids vital for male reproductive. If not diagnosed early, it spreads quickly to other parts of the body, eventually leading to death.

Dr Ahmed Kalebi, a consultant pathologist and honorary lecturer at the University said that the relatively poor level of awareness about the disease among Kenyans is partly responsible for many incidences of late diagnosis of the disease.

Dr Kalebi, who also runs Pathologists Lancet Kenya, the largest private medical laboratory network in the country, which carries numerous tests on prostate cancer, said the levels of awareness are much lower in rural areas.

"Prostate cancer is no longer a disease that only affects people in rich western countries. It is becoming more common all across Kenya. We need to do more to protect ourselves," he advised.

He added, "Kenyan men who are above 50-years to be on the look-out since they stand higher risks of developing prostate cancer and in some cases, even men in their 40s.Ladies should support their men in this."

Among the possible signs of prostate cancer are high frequency of urination and burning sensation while urinating. In addition, urine flow is often poor and unsteady. At advanced stages, blood or pus may be noted in the urine.

"Not everyone who is above 50 years should go out and take a prostate cancer test. But once you notice some possible symptoms, you should not ignore them but go for the test. But we should avoid over-screening too," advised Dr Kalebi.

Experts caution that Kenyan men with a family history of the disease should be more cautious since their risk of developing it is much higher.

However, most public hospitals across the country don't offer prostate cancer screening making access to the service limited. Only major facilities like Kenyatta National Hospital can offer such a service. On the other hand, private health facilities are more expensive.

According to Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board fee guidelines for this year, prostate cancer tests average between Sh2, 100 and Sh3, 600. The test is available at level E and F specialised laboratories certified by the Kenya Medical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians Board.