Our Healthier Kenya Initiative

Creating Public Health Awareness

Cancer: The Rising burden among Kenyans

July 29, 2019

As the population expands exponentially, so does the burden of diseases. One particular public health concern and of interest is cancer which is non-communicable and a leading killer disease. There are many types of cancer, some affecting only one gender and others affecting both males and females. One in 5 men and one in 6 women worldwide develop cancer during their lifetime, and one in 8 men and one in 11 women die from the disease.

Several factors are responsible for the rising problem of cancer which include growing and ageing population, social and economic changes associated with lifestyles, the gap between identification and intervention of cancer cases and issues related to limited or lack of availability of services, access to healthcare, affordability of treatment and quality of healthcare.

Medical Tourism

Cancer has become the main source of bankruptcy among many Kenyans whose last resort and hope is to travel overseas for treatment (medical tourism). The reason for the medical tourism among Kenyans is due to the unsustainable limited resources, poor politics, corruption and dysfunctional healthcare system in Kenya.

It speak volumes when you see most prominent personalities including government officials seeking medical care overseas. I think the point doesn’t need to be emphasized further about what that means regarding the state of our healthcare system.

Cancer Cases

Anyway, according to Globacan, out of Kenya’s population of 50,950,877 there were 47,887 new cancer cases reported in 2018. Of these cancer cases, there were 19,199 males and 28,688 females.

The top five new cancer cases among men in 2018 were:

  1. Prostate – 2,864
  2. Oesophagus – 2,384
  3. Colorectum – 1,134
  4. Kaposi Sarcoma – 1,070
  5. Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma – 1,064

The top 5 new cases of cancer among males contributed 44 percent of the total male cases i.e.  8,516 out of the 19,199 new cases of cancer.

Among females, the top five new cancer cases were:

  1. Breast – 5,985
  2. Cervix uteri – 5,250
  3. Oesophagus – 1,996
  4. Colorectum – 1,182
  5. Stomach – 1,099

Out of the 28,688 new cases of cancer among females in 2018, the top five contributed 54 percent i.e. 15,512.

From these numbers, it is clear that there is more cancer burden among female population compared to males. Oesophagus and Colorectal cancers appeared common among both males and females.    

When combined, the top five new cancer cases among both males and females were as follows:

  1. Breast 5,985
  2. Cervix uteri – 5,250
  3. Oesophagus – 4,380
  4. Prostate – 2,864
  5. Stomach – 2,127

In 2018, there were 32,987 cancer deaths in Kenya, of which 14,215 occurred among males and 18,772 among females.

What is next?

Cancer prevention requires collaborative effort from multiple agencies and stakeholders both from private, public and non-governmental organisations.

Creating public health awareness is necessary in order to promote cancer awareness campaigns, prevent and protect the people from possible exposures, reducing possible risk factors such as tobacco use, alcohol use, dietary factors  such as low fruit and vegetables intake, physical inactivity, overweight  and obesity.

Gaps that exist need to be identified to ensure continuum of care from from screening, treatment to palliative services.

Enhanced surveillance and data collection is vital in the assessment and planning of cancer services.

Healthcare institutions need to be strategically available and accessible, equipped with modern technological equipment, adequately staffed with competent personnel, and make these services affordable and of quality standard in order to encourage proactive rather than reactive behaviour. The government needs to ensure that it fulfils it healthcare agenda without interference from corrupt cartels and predatory politics. It is a long way to go but we can still get there as long as we, as a country keep going forward in the right direction.

For more data and information and/or further data analysis, contact Thuku Njenga at ourhealthierkenya@gmail.com

The writer is a public health professional having worked in various public health capacities in Missouri as an epidemiologist, health planner and educator.

Data source:

Globocan 2018, International Agency for Research on Cancer/WHO

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