A growing number of middle-aged women in Nakuru from low income backgrounds are dying from cervical cancer, County Reproductive Coordinator Ms Clara Kerich has warned.
Ms Kerich said the overall trend of cervical cancer burden in Kenya had risen sharply in the past eight years; from 3,286 cases in 2012 to 5,236 new cases reported last year, an increase of 59.34 percent while over the same period the number of deaths recorded had increased by 53.92 percent; from 2,411 to 3,711.
Speaking at the Nakuru Level Five hospital when she opened a week-long training session for 26 nurse managers and reproductive health coordinators on how to screen and treat cervical cancer in a bid to reduce the cancer burden within the devolved unit, Ms Kerich said though cervical cancer ranked second after breast cancer in women from low-income areas, it was the leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
The training that is organized and sponsored by the National Government Cancer and Control Program in collaboration with Clinton Health Access-CHAI aims at improving the quality of life and care for cancer patients.
Ms Kerich observed that some of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer were already burdened by HIV/Aids and poverty adding that though cancer has been associated with the rich, the disease was now very common among middle and low income earners in the county.
She advised parents to take their daughters aged below 10 years for the human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which she said prevents the HPV types that cause most cervical cancers as well as some cancers of the anus, vulva (area around the opening of the vagina), vagina, and oropharynx (back of throat including base of tongue and tonsils).
“Women between the ages of 25 to 64 should have Pap smears every three years while HIV positive women are advised to undergo the procedure every year. Screening is very important even for women who have already received the HPV vaccine as it does not guarantee protection against all types of cervical cancers and regular screening will catch precancerous cells before they become cancer,” she stated.
The coordinator further noted that available statistics from the County’s Health Department indicated that fewer men compared to women were checked for cancer. She urged men aged between 35 and 50 to go for prostate cancer screening adding that 16 hospitals and 26 health centres in the county were screening free of charge for breast, cervical and prostate cancer.
Ms Kerich asserted that most cancers were treatable if diagnosed early and called on Kenyans to change their perception of the disease as a death sentence.
According to statistics by the Ministry of Health, the national uptake of screening stands at 16 percent.
She said there was a need to bridge the gap between screening and medication, adding that most cancer cases are diagnosed late when nothing much can be done.
According to the Kenya Cancer Network there are about 40,000 new cases of cancer each year in the country that leads to 28,000 deaths.
Ms Kerich said statistics from the health department indicated that the leading cancer reported in men within the devolved unit was prostrate while throat and eye cancers in children were also common.
The statistics from the Ministry of Health also rank cancer as the third leading high mortality disease in Kenya followed by infectious diseases, with cervical cancer as the top cause of death among women followed by breast, uterine and oesophagus cancers. The statistics indicate that about 6,000 new cases of breast cancer are reported every year in the country.
Since the Oncology centre was established at the Nakuru Level 6 Hospital four years ago, more than 25,000 cases have been reviewed with over 3000 having undergone chemotherapy.
Prior to the establishment of the department, patients in need of cancer treatment were referred to Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret.
More Kenyan women die from cancer than men, according to the World Health Organization’s research agency.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer’s Globocan data shows that the disease claims 18,772 women compared to 14,215 men yearly. Women also lead in new cancer cases with 28,688 getting the disease compared to 19,199 men, representing 56 per cent of the total new cases.
In the next five years, the Globocan data shows, Kenyan women will continue bearing the brunt as cancer rates are set to rise twice faster than in men.
By Anne Mwale and Catherine Karanja