Throat cancer cases on steady rise in Western Kenya


By Lennah Nafula

The number of patients suffering from throat cancer in Western Kenya is rising   medical experts say.

Medics attribute the increased cases of throat (oesophagus) cancer to among other factors excessive intake of illicit brew, smoking and cooking by use of firewood.

Mzee Ali Idi Tamba, is a throat cancer patient who hails from Shibuye location in Kakamega County and was diagnosed with the disease in July last year.

Mr Ali whose health has deteriorated, said he started feeling throat irritation after taking Ugali which was served with roasted meat, saying at first he thought it was just a mere irritation that would probably go away but it persisted.

Ali said he went for screening at the referral hospital and was found to have throat cancer. “I have been drinking alcohol since early 60’s and smoking tobacco since late 50’s and the doctors told me that it might be one of the reasons I developed cancer,”

Ali survives on painkillers since he doesn’t have a medical cover that can take care of his treatment and eats by the help of a pipe inserted in his throat.

Shiboko Ambani from Lirhembe sub location, is a mother of five and 16 grandchildren. She too was diagnosed with oesophagus cancer last year.

“I used to have persistent severe chest pains and my family thought I had developed ulcers and was even put under ulcers medication but my health continued to deteriorate. “After a cancer biopsy scan was done, medics found a tumor in my chest and a surgical operation was recommended,” said Ms Shiboko.

She said the tumor was later found to be cancer of the oesophagus.

Due to high cost of treatment, she hasn’t received good medication but only survives on pain killers and eats pigweeds and pumpkin leaves. Medics restricted her from cooking using firewood and eating acidic foods.

In an interview with The Standard yesterday, Vincent Lunaro, a researcher at the Kakamega County Teaching and Referral hospital cancer centre, said that at least 400 patients were diagnosed with different types cancers out of the 6,000 people who came for cancer screening at the facility since January last year.

The Kakamega Cancer centre is the only one in the region serving approximately 10 million people.

Mr Lunaro said of the 400 patients, 18 per cent were diagnosed with breast cancer, 17 per cent had cervical cancer and 16 per cent throat cancer.

“There is a steady rise of patients suffering from throat cancer in the region since most people use firewood in cooking therefore getting exposed to carbon monoxide. Continuous exposure of the throat lining cells to carbon monoxide makes the cells mutate in order to adapt to new conditions,” said Lunaro.

According to Lunaro, men are leading the pack of those who were diagnosed with cancer of the throat which currently stands at 70 per cent of the 68 patients who were diagnosed with throat cancer and attributed it to smoking and excess consumption of illicit brews.

He said the increased cases of throat cancer is majorly among low income earners in the region.

Judy Ombati, who is the nurse in charge at Kakamega cancer center, said other studies have shown the increasing cases of throat cancer is as a result of locals taking hot drinks such tea, coffee beverages and hot milk.

 “The problem may not even be the hot tea or the food we consume but the content used in making it. We buy milk from the supermarkets unaware of the additives used to preserve the milk and even tomatoes from the market but are dangerous due to the pesticides used ,” said Ms Ombati.

A study at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet County revealed that people from Western Kenya drink the hottest tea recorded anywhere else in the world.

The study indicated that Kenyans from the Western region prefer their tea at temperatures exceeding 72 degrees Celsius.

Experts have identified Throat cancer as the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide with a high distribution in Central Asia, Western Kenya and parts of South Africa.

Most cancer patients cannot access medical assistance because of the expenses involved.

 However, Eileen Mulaa, from the department of Exercise and Sports Science at Kenyatta University, said healthcare providers should prescribe exercise or physical activity to the patients who come for cancer screening.

Physical activity on someone suffering from cancer has been seen to have good effect on a person’s antioxidant capacity. It curbs the cancerous effects of cancer causing cells and survival rate is 50 per cent when a patient engages himself in a regular physical activity,” said Ms Mulaa.

“Research has proven that a high-volume-high-intensity exercise program has many benefits to the body on body weight, fat mass and central obesity than a low amount of exercise. Physical activity and good nutrition is good for preventing and managing all types of cancers,” Mulaa added.


  Ali Idi Tamba a cancer patient with his wife Mwanaisha Ali at their home in shibuye


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