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Cancer burden grows as cases of breast, cervical infections surge

 Guests join a Kayamba Afrika music member in a dance during the launch of the National Cancer Summit at a Nairobi hotel. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Five years ago, Lucy Njeri, left her job in order to look after her ailing mother who was critically sick.

At the time, she had just stopped breastfeeding her baby. One day, she noticed that her breasts were swollen, prompting her to go for a check-up.

"When I stopped breastfeeding, I developed lymph nodes at the armpits and there were painful. I went for medical check-up at a local health facility. The doctor told me that it was mastitis, an inflammation of breast tissue, and put me on medication," said Njeri.

"The condition worsened and when I went to Kenyatta National Hospital after visiting different hospitals, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I underwent six chemotherapy sessions after which, my body became weak."

Njeri gave her account Tuesday at a city hotel during the launch of National Cancer Summit whose objective is to review the status of cancer response in line with control and prevention.

"That was the lowest moment in my life. My mother is critically sick and I am also sick. To save my life, my breast was removed. The National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) paid for the surgery and chemotherapy sessions," said Njeri

Njeri said that she almost sunk into depression after the treatment whenever the thought of living without one of her breast came into her mind, saying she underwent counseling to heal from the trauma.

"You have to undergo emotional healing especially when you see the scars on your body that you didn't have before. Now am living in a new body that I got after my breast was removed," said Njeri. "I refused to have a breast implant and I now use it as a weapon to create awareness that cancer is not a death sentence."

According to the National Cancer Institute of Kenya (NCI-K), the cancer burden is on the rise and that its straining populations and health systems at all income levels.

Dr Alfred Karagu, the NCI-Kenya chief executive said that out of all cancers in Kenya, breast cancer is leading with at least 5,985 cases being reported annually, accounting for 12.5 per cent of all new cases.

"Breast cancer is prevalent in Nairobi and Coast region and within the urban set up. In Nairobi, Nyanza and Western, cervical cancer is high especially among persons living with HIV. In areas like Kericho, esophageal cancer is prevalent," said Dr Karagu

He said that the top five common cancers are breast, cervical, prostate, esophageal and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma account that account for nearly half or 48 per cent of the cancer burden in Kenya.

"Cancer is the third leading cause of death both globally and Kenya. In 2020, the country reported 42,000 new cancer cases and 27,000 cancer related deaths," said Karagu

Dr Githinji Gitahi, the chair of NCI Kenya chair said that the cancer burden is now affecting Kenyans of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds, adding that it has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable groups.

"At least 76 people are dying of Kenya every day in Kenya. 70 per cent of cancer patients die, as the cases are diagnosed when the disease is at an advanced stage when cure is impossible," Dr Gitahi said.

"What the National Cancer Summit will seek to answer is what can we do to prevent cancer first? If not prevented, how do we diagnose it early? The answer is in screening of all populations and those already affected to be put on treatment immediately."

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