MKU partners with counties in cancer fight

Collaboration with Machakos and Kiambu is to develop population-based registries

In Summary
  • The MKU researchers, led by Dr Makokha, said the team hopes to complete and handover the Kiambu county cancer registry in the next few months.
  • The team will also study the genetic changes among breast cancer patients in Kenya.
Mount Kenya University main campus in Thika.
Mount Kenya University main campus in Thika.

Mount Kenya University researchers have partnered with Kiambu and Machakos counties to develop population-based cancer registries.

The Machakos cancer registry was completed and handed over to the county’s Department of Health in November 2021 in collaboration with AIC Kijabe Hospital. Plans are under way to assist in updating the hospital-based cancer registry.

The researchers, led by Dr Francis Makokha, said the team hopes to complete and hand over the Kiambu county cancer registry in the next few months.

 “It is envisaged that these registries will guide in prioritising planning for cancer care, prevention and psychosocial support programmes to reduce the burden of cancer in these counties,” he said.

He spoke in a commemoration held to mark this year’s World Cancer Day on February 4 under the theme: "Close the Care Gap." 

The 2022 theme is a rallying call to world governments to prioritise access to comprehensive cancer by all citizens regardless of income status.

The theme further calls for capital investments in facility development and enabling off all citizens to access the services offered, regardless of their levels of income.

The disparity in access to cancer care, ranging from screening, diagnosis, treatment, follow up or palliative care and psychosocial support is disproportionately against low income settings, in both high income countries and low and middle income countries. 

While the incidence of cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa is lower than that in HICs, there is a more likelihood of dying from cancer in the HICs.

It’s estimated that there were 19.3 million people diagnosed with cancer worldwide in 2020. Within the same year, 10 people are estimated to have died from cancer.

In Kenya, about 42,116 people were diagnosed with cancer while 27,092 died from cancer-related illnesses in 2020.

Breast cancer was the most frequently diagnosed cancer, accounting for 16.1 per cent of all cancer cases reported in Kenya.

This is followed by cervical, prostate, oesophageal and colorectal cancer as the top five most commonly diagnosed cancers in the Kenyan population.

The above figures are based on two cancer registries.

Nairobi Cancer Registry records cancer occurring among Nairobi residents and Eldoret Cancer Registry that records cancer occurring among residents surrounding Eldoret town, namely Nandi, Uasin Gishu and Elgeyo Marakwet.

It means the data reported does not represent the exact cancer situation in the counties.

Meanwhile, the MKU researchers have also partnered with faculty from other institutions, including Aga Khan University Hospital (Nairobi), AIC Kijabe Hospital in a study titled, “Genomic approaches for understanding breast cancer among Kenya patients.”

Under the leadership of Dr Makokha, the team will study the genetic changes among breast cancer patients in Kenya. This study is being funded by a grant from The National Research Fund, Kenya.

Building on this initial study are other studies focusing on liquid biopsy using circulating cell-free DNA and gene expression patterns.

The study has also attracted partnerships with international partners, including Britain’s University of Edinburgh and International Agency for Research on Cancer, among others, who are working with the MKU team to understand the genetic changes causing breast cancer locally.

“Currently, preliminary data from this study is being analysed and the results will be shared with the public through peer reviewed journals, media and other stakeholder engagement forums in the course of this year," Dr Makokha said.

Breast cancer, a collection of different types of diseases that present differently in different patents, is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Kenya.

It can be inherited if one inherits mutations in certain genes referred to as Breast Cancer gene 1 or 2 (BRCA 1, BRCA2).  However, hereditary breast cancer represents only a very small per cent of breast cancer cases diagnosed.

In all breast cancer patients (like all other cancer cases), there are changes in DNA (mutations) of certain genes that drive the disease.

Knowledge of the patterns of these changes, referred to as mutational signature, is important in understanding the nature of breast cancer. It also guides development of drugs to treat breast cancer.

Additionally, it may guide the choice of treatment, including drugs needed for targeted treatments, what is commonly referred to as precision or personalised medicine.


(edited by Amol Awuor)

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