• At least 42,116 Kenyans are diagnosed with various cancers every year
• Tobacco is the biggest preventable cause of cancers, yet it remains legal
It will be impossible to curb the rising cancer burden in Kenya without ending the rampant tobacco use, the new cancer control strategy suggests.
The strategy noted tobacco use is currently the biggest preventable cause of cancers in Kenya.
It says Kenya must cut by half the use of tobacco and tobacco-related products from the current 13.3 per cent to 6.5 per cent by 2028.
“Most cancers are linked to tobacco use (responsible for 20-30 per cent of all new cancer cases or cancer deaths),” the strategy notes.
Others are linked to alcohol use (3-7 per cent), overweight and obesity (3-10 per cent), physical inactivity, deficient intake in fruits and vegetables (5 per cent) and or infectious agents.
“Tobacco consumption, for example, has been linked to tumorigenesis, including but not limited to lung cancer, laryngeal-esophageal cancers and bladder cancer,” the plan states.
The Ministry of Health, which launched the National Cancer Control Strategy 2023-28 on Friday, proposed more taxes to discourage tobacco use since the killer drug remains legal.
At least 42,116 Kenyans are diagnosed with various cancers every year.
The ministry estimated this number will rise to 58,000 Kenyans every year by 2028 if the country continues with the current business-as-usual attitude.
“About 40 per cent of all cancers can be prevented through avoidance of known modifiable risk factors, immunisation and making our living environment healthier,” Health CS Susan Nakhumicha said.
“This means out of the 42,116 cases of cancer diagnosed every year in Kenya, around 16,846 could be prevented. Another one third can be cured if detected early and treated appropriately.”
Tobacco is the most important risk factor, responsible for one in five cancers and one in three cancer-related deaths, the ministry said.
It says failure to increase tobacco taxes means more deaths in Kenya.
It called for “increased excise taxation to the WHO recommended 70 per cent of retail price, and continued use of pricing mechanisms to limit access to tobacco products”.
The strategy trashes the move by tobacco manufacturers to sell nicotine pouches to promote tobacco cessation.
Pouches have not been proven to work anywhere but instead addict users.
“We will support provision of tobacco cessation services (counselling and pharmacotherapy) through integration at health facilities and cancer treatment centres,” the strategy says.
Kenya’s 'Steps 2015' survey estimates tobacco use among adults at 13.3 per cent. The mean age of smoking initiation is 20.8 years, and exposure to second-hand smoke is 30 per cent at the workplace and 24 per cent at home.
The stepwise survey notes about 19 per cent of adults consume alcohol. About one in every three Kenyans are overweight or obese, while only about seven per cent of Kenyans consume the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
“The National Cancer Control Strategy is all about people,” Nakhumicha said.
“It is about preventing cancer across our population, diagnosing cancer early and providing optimal care to patients while maximising their quality of life.”
The risk of developing cancer before the age of 75 years in Kenya is 18 per cent among women and 14.3 per cent among men.
Acting director general for health Patrick Amoth said: “This strategic plan also adopts a multi-sectoral approach in reduction of the burden of cancer risk factors, including tobacco and alcohol use, occupational exposures, air pollution, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity.”
The five commonest cancers in Kenya are breast, cervical, prostate, oesophageal and colorectal. Women are disproportionately affected by cancer, with a higher incidence recorded in women as compared to men.
Tobacco control advocates praised the government but noted Kenya has still fails to implement its tobacco control laws.
“For instance, for the first time in more than five years, the government did not raise taxes on tobacco and nicotine this year, despite the overwhelming evidence these things are killing Kenyans,” said Joel Gitali, the national chairman of the Tobacco Control and Health Promotion Alliance.
He said the government must also clamp down on nicotine products that have flooded the market.
“You cannot fight tobacco by addicting a whole new generation with nicotine,” he said.