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Hope As Cancer Awareness Months Lapses

The cancer burden has been rising globally, wielding significant strain on populations and health systems at all income levels.

In Kenya, Cancer which is the 3rd leading cause of death after infectious and cardiovascular diseases, has seen Doctors and stakeholders coming together to not only raise awareness but also come up with new innovations. new medical therapies, precision surgical tools and medicines.

Specialists are now expressing hope for patients and survivors of breast cancer, and intimating that it is very possible for a woman who has had her breast removed due to cancer to get it back and even have it looking better than the original.

Dr. Karen Mbaabu, a breast cancer surgeon says that Kenya has made great strides and now, the country has capacity to prolong lives of survivors.

“In Kenya now, we are able to offer either breast conserving surgery where we maintain the majority of the breast tissue and indeed form it into a normal looking breast or a better appearing breast,” she said during a media roundtable organized by Kenya Society of Oncology and Haematology- (KESHO)

She explains that women suffering from breast cancer can be healed almost completely and in addition to this, surgeons are currently able to build new breasts or recreate them for patients who have had to lose breasts because of surgery.

Mbaabu however says that despite the progress, the challenge of early detection of the disease is still lagging behind and asked Kenyans to go for regular screening to give an opportunity for detection at an early stage.

According to the government 60 percent of cancer patients in Kenya are diagnosed at an advanced stage when the disease has spread and making it difficult to cure or manage.

“What we really want to come out strongly and say, is that when breast cancer is picked up early, there are a lot more cure options that are available to us now- surgically,” she said.

From the diagnosis, Mbaabu reveals that surgeons now are able to pick up fairly early for small breast cancers due to an improvement in the array of technologies at their disposal and gave an example of while using the radiology equipment, for instance, they are able to pick up areas of abnormalities in the breast, which are yet to present as a lump.

The surgeons are also able to assess or take a sample of the affected area using medical tools such as stereotactic biopsy and this is where the area that looks abnormal, and has not presented as a lump is taken out.

Based on this though, Mbaabu explains that the surgeons are also faced with the challenge of operating on those areas which are not able to be easily felt and that is where they deploy the use of magnetic tracers, small magnetic seeds in short form, ‘magseeds’ which are the size of a grain of rice and introduce into the breast guided by a metallic gadget before surgery so that they can pick the small cancerous cells.

“This process ensures we are able to know exactly where the cancer is and eliminate it by injecting new non-affected cells drawn from the same person and be able to completely remove it,” she says.

She adds,“This is primarily what plastic surgeons use to make a person look attractive, and now we are using it through a technology called autologous transplant, a method that involves transplantation of an individual’s own cells which are collected, stored and then given back to the same person after treatment to kill the cancer.”

Mbaabu further notes that there are a lot of developments in surgical techniques that are helping to minimize loss of blood during surgery, and hasten recovery turnaround time after procedures. “So, all these are within the realm of our expertise, and we are really encouraging people to take it up, and just to be aware of their own breast health,” she says.

Dr. Andrew Odhiambo, a Medical Oncologist, says it’s an exciting moment in the health field in that for breast cancer now, there are many new treatments that were not there before.

“We are able to give almost lifetime solutions to those patients who were diagnosed with advanced breast cancer before, that might have already spread out of the breast to other different parts of the body, using these new and available technologies and medication, some of them called targeted therapy,” he says.

Odhiambo who specializes on cancers of the digestive system, and breast adding that using the new treatment therapies enable the specialists to keep breast cancer patients alive for many years.

“Sometimes these medicines could be available in a tablet that a patient can take home, and maybe they can come, see a doctor once a month, and are able to live relatively a normal life, and yet they are surviving from Stage four breast cancer,” he says, noting that these particular drugs have also been available in the country for a long time.

“We have been using them, but we are also getting newer and newer medications like radiotherapy,” he adds.

Right now, for breast cancer, Odhiambo explains there is no need for patients to travel outside the country to look for treatment, saying the presence of most of all the specialists the country needs, modern machines and all the specialized surgeons for breast cancer is available.

These developments, Odhiambo went on to say is a pointer of a country that’s inching closer to having local solutions to her medical challenges.

Prof. Nicholas Abinya, an Associate professor in medicine, section of Haematology and Oncology at the University of Nairobi says the country is adequately resourced professionally.

“Despite various data sources showing that breast cancer is the top killer of women, there are adequate specialists needed to take care of any number of patients for cancer treatment,” he says, noting this is besides the opening up of training facilities for cancer treatment.

He explains that Kenyan universities have advanced academic programmes for medical oncologists, gynecologist and master’s course on radiation oncology but decried lack of research funding as a main challenge.

Abinya asks Kenyans to be keen on regular screening for early detection of the disease saying if it is caught early, it is curable. “Treatments tend to be cheaper and less complicated if you detect it early. But if you wait until it is advanced then chances of getting cured are close to zero,” he asserts.

The concerns by the Oncology experts are being voiced even as they head to the Kenya International Cancer Conference that will be hosted by the Kenya Society of Oncology and Haematology (KESHO) and taking place in Mombasa this Month of November from 24th to 26th.

Data from WHO notes that in Kenya, from 2012 to 2018, the annual incidence of cancer increased from 37,000 to 47,887 new cases and during the same period annual cancer mortality rose almost 16 percent, from 28,500 to 32,987 cancer-related deaths.

The government in 2018 came up with the national cancer screening guidelines in line with the

the implementation of the National Cancer Control Strategy 2017-2022 which focuses on Prevention, Early Detection and Cancer Screening.

By Wangari Ndirangu

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