CANCER IN KENYA: HAVE THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST?

According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, Kenya ranks 49th in the top 50 countries with the highest the occurrence in cancer among women. This is quite alarming since we know that there are many cancer cases that go undetected in our country due to lack of screening facilities. Many countries on this list rank very high because of their effectiveness in detecting cancer cases in their population and it is indeed sad to think we might rank higher in this list if each and every cancer case was detected in Kenya. According to the Kenyan Network of Cancer Organizations, only a paltry 20-30% of cancer cases are detected on time due to lack of diagnostic equipment.

Talking to many Kenyans, you get this idea that each and every family has a story about a relative who has died from cancer, is fighting cancer or in those rare cases survived cancer. This gets one wondering whether the increase in cancer cases is a case where the chickens have come home to roost due to our daily exposure to carcinogens or even simply the change in our diet and lifestyles.

Speculative Nature of Cancer Causes

It is extremely tricky to determine the cause of many forms of cancer on an individual. With many cancer cases, you cannot definitively apply the principle of cause and effect and causes are speculative at best in most cases. To make it worse, some scientists think that occurrence of cancer might even have more to do with our genetic predisposition than external factors. In certain cases such as lung cancer, cause and effect is more direct since we know if you smoke the likelihood of you developing lung cancer is high. But based on research, exposure to certain culprits such as asbestos  or chemicals in cigarettes offer a direct correlation to the occurrence of cancer. Furthermore, it can take even decades to develop cancer after exposure to cancer causing agents. This is unlike chronic diseases such as diabetes where it is easy to diagnose and treat.

Escalation in Cancer Cases for our Parents’ Generation

Growing up, cancer did not seem to be everyone’s conversation as it is today. This leads one to wonder whether cancer in our parents’ generation is as a result of those chemicals they used in our dips or sprayers to kill ticks; pesticides to treat coffee, preserve maize and beans; herbicides to kill weeds or fertilizers; banned chemicals such as DDT or even Doom for killing mosquitoes. Could it be just the transition from eating good-old fashioned natural foods of our grandparents to processed foods that are now easily available in our supermarkets?

This is a question that scientists in Kenya will need to answer if the upward trajectory of cancer cases is to be stopped.

How about Prevention?

But how do you prevent a disease for which you do not definitively know the real cause?

Probably erring on the side of caution might be the best way forward for us for now, taking precautions when we handle chemicals and trying to incorporate natural foods to our daily diets.

According to Cancer Research UK, 4 in 10 cases of cancer are preventable by doing the following (This is also supported by a nearly identical list by Mayo Clinic a top hospital in the world when it comes to cancer treatment):

  1. Not smoking
  2. Keeping a healthy body weight
  3. Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  4. Cutting back on alcohol
  5. Enjoying the sun safely
  6. Keeping active
  7. Observe safety precautions when using any kind of chemical

A weekend away from the ever-increasing smog and smoke in our major cities might also do the trick especially when it comes to lung cancer.

And then, unfortunately, we have to leave the thorny issue of genetic predisposition to God and hopefully genetic engineering of the future.