• While coronavirus death toll is under 10,000 so far, cancer kills about 10 million a year
People’s attention on health globally has been diverted to the Covid-19 disease, popularly known as the coronavirus, that has killed about 9,000 people to date.
But what scared Kenyans before the coronavirus was cancer. The most common types are breast cancer, prostate cancer, basal cell cancer, skin cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, leukaemia and lymphoma.
According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is a large group of diseases that can start in almost any organ or tissue of the body, when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably and go beyond their boundaries to invade adjoining parts of the body or spread to other organs.
It is estimated that cancer killed 9.6 million people in 2018, thus one in every six deaths. The disease is known to be the second-leading cause of death globally after cardiovascular diseases.
As our attention is drawn to corona, we should also put in mind that cancer rates have been estimated to increase by 50 per cent in 2020, that is 15 million new cases, according to WHO.
It is oesophageal cancer that took Mary Keli’s father (see separate story) in just four months after he was diagnosed with the disease.
With 410,000 cases reported globally, oesophageal cancer has been associated with tobacco smoking. Other cancers also linked to tobacco include cancer of the stomach, liver, uterine cervix, kidney, nasal cavities and sinuses.
Looking at Keli’s father, this might be the reason he caught the disease. Keli mentioned that all her life, she has seen her father smoke, something the doctor advised him to quit before his demise.
Eating fruits and vegetables could also reduce the risk of developing oesophagal cancer. This type of cancer has also been attributed to alcohol consumption, which Keli’s father also used to partake in.
The Global Burden of Disease study estimates that in 2010, alcohol-attributable oesophageal cancer resulted in 76,700 deaths.
There is a 20 per cent chance the cancer might return. You have cured the 80 per cent but that 20 per cent, you need to be careful aboutOncologist Riaz Kasmani
Oncologist Riaz Kasmani of the Mombasa Cancer Centre, Mombasa Hospital, say oesophageal cancer is of two types: the squamous cell cancer, which occurs on the upper and the middle part of the oesophagus and is the most prevalent; and the adenocarcinoma, which arises in many tissues of the body.
Kasmani said sometimes it becomes difficult to do a surgery when it is already late and oesophageal cancer has grown.
“The oesophagus is in the chest, where there are so many other organs, so many blood vessels, so many nerves passing. If it is a bit late, then we might not be able to do surgery,” he said.
Breast cancer, on the other hand, is what took Keli’s mother after both of her breasts were removed to prevent its spread to other parts of the body, but it still spread, causing her death after three years of struggle with it.
Breast cancer recorded 2.09 million cases globally in 2018, with 627,000 deaths.
HOW TO STAY SAFE
Frequent screening has always been advised by health specialists to ensure early detection and treatment. Breast cancer has been listed to have a high cure rate alongside cervical cancer, oral cancer and colorectal cancer when detected early.
In this case, mammography screening is used for breast cancer to detect the disease even when a woman has not received any signs and symptoms of the disease.
Kasamani said there is hormonal positive breast cancer, where the cells grow in response to the oestrogen hormone, and hormonal negative breast cancer, which has neither oestrogen nor progesterone receptors.
He said it is very possible for someone to be cancer-free, but one has to be vigilant and do a follow-up.
“Sometimes cancer can come back even when you do the best cancer treatment. There is a 20 per cent chance the cancer might return. You have cured the 80 per cent but that 20 per cent, you need to be careful about,” the doctor said.
“We recommend prevention and early detection. Have a healthy lifestyle to remove the risk factors away from our lives.”