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Hope and optimism as world marks cancer day

By Gatonye Gathura | Published Sun, February 4th 2018 at 00:00, Updated February 3rd 2018 at 20:26 GMT +3
Project manager of cancer linear accelerator equipment for cancer therapy Santosh Tawdekar shows the machine at Kenyatta National Hospital during a World cancer day on 4/2/16. [photo/BEVERLYNE MUSILI]

Finally, there is optimism across the world that with good institutional planning and responsible individual lifestyle, cancer can be managed.

Today, the World Cancer Day is marked on the background of two major reports showing a decline in cancer cases as well as deaths from the disease.

The message from the two studies is that cancer can be prevented but if it manifests it is not a death sentence.

One of the studies covering 71 countries 13 of them in African found cancer survival to be increasing in most parts of the world.

Sadly, survival was highest in rich countries and lowest in the poor nations, said the study published in the journal The Lancet on Friday.

Highest cancer survival rates were recorded in the US and Canada, in Australia and New Zealand, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

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Other countries recording good survival rates are Japan, Taiwan and East Asia. The study covering 37.5 million patients show cancer survival to decline with poverty with rich countries posting best results.

But due to poor quality data from cancer registries in Africa, it was not possible to determine whether survival rates in the continent are increasing.

“The encouraging message here is that cancer happened with HIV can be turned from a death sentence to a manageable condition,” says Dr Alfred Karagu, head of the National Cancer Institute of the Ministry of Health.

The second study carried out in the US showed a significant decline in lung cancer, which is attributed to reduced revels of smoking and tobacco use.

“Because of lower smoking rates, you have rapid declines in lung cancer in men, and a 45 per cent drop in lung cancer death rates, which is great progress, and then an almost a 20 per cent drop in women,” said researcher Rebecca Siegel.

Healthy living

The researchers conclude good health care, sound policies and individual responsibility can help bring down the agony of cancer. “Good policies work,” said Siegel.

“While it is too early to tell how our anti-smoking policies are impacting on cancer, what we know is that there is more awareness on the disease today than ever before,” Dr Karagu told the Sunday Standard.

He said the coverage of cancer treatment by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) could have significant impact on survival rates.

“Already we have started seeing less congestion at Kenyatta National Hospital as patients get other treatment alternatives,” said Dr Karagu.

The coverage of cancer by NHIF, he said was a significant relief to most families who cannot afford payment even in public hospitals.

For example cervical and breast cancer treatment, cost for stage III is about Sh154,500 in public facilities and more than Sh772,500 in private hospitals.

“Breast and cervical cancer treatment in the private sector was almost 10 times more expensive than in the public sector,” said Dr Karugu.

Additionally, KNH had recently increased its capacity to treat cancer with three radiotherapy machines hence reducing the burden it was facing. To improve data, he said 10 counties are in the early stages of establishing cancer registries which provide better and timely information on the status of disease for better planning.

Some of these counties include - Embu, Kisumu, Mombasa, Meru and Nyeri.

“We are still a long way to bringing cancer under control but we are emboldened that reports elsewhere show it can be done.”

Within this year, Dr Karagu said Kenya will have installed a PET Scan machine that is crucial for monitoring the disease with precision and accuracy. This is the main reason most local cancer patients travel to India.

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