Over the years, cancer has been associated with the older population. Whenever the talk of the disease affecting organs like the breast, stomach, colon, rectum, and cervix pops up, the assumption is that only those above 50 years are affected. However, the trend is gradually changing as noted by the oncologists at Kenyatta National Hospital as young people are now at risk. Unfortunately, in most, the disease is detected in the metastatic stage when chances of survival are minimal.
Cancer is the third highest cause of morbidity in Kenya after infectious diseases and cardiovascular illnesses. The annual incidence in Kenya is about 28000 new cases and an annual mortality of 22000 cases. This directly translates to 78.5% of patients who do not survive (Cancer Incidence Report, 2012). There is no discrimination with the disease; any age and socio-economic background are at risk. In the case of children, according to data represented by Dr. Jessie Githanga in February 2013, childhood cancer accounted for 15% of cancer admissions at Kenyatta National Hospital between 1998-2008. Further, only one in ten children survive cancer as opposed to seven in ten in developed countries.
Though there is insufficient information on the actual cancer incidences, it is clear that the youth are not spared and form part of the statistics. What could be the probable cause? Can the situation be salvaged? Obesity, exposure to toxic chemicals, poor eating habits, and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle are partly to blame. Nonetheless, not all with cancer have met the highlighted criteria hence the need to do more research to curb this scourge.
Reports state that 30% of the cases are curable if detected early, 30% are treatable with prolonged survival if diagnosed early, and 30% of patients can be provided with adequate symptom management and palliative care. Regrettably, these statistics may not be the case for most young people because of the following reasons;
- Minimal knowledge or awareness about cancer and the symptoms. This results in some people opting for the over-the-counter drugs to suppress the symptom and not seeking further treatment
- Poor finances as most do not have the money to get health insurance covers or even seek medical attention
- Misdiagnosis when they tend to visit the nearest health facility
- Doctors overlooking checking for certain types of cancers as they consider them young
- How doctors may deal with young patients in breaking the news to them as most are already in the metastatic stage by the time they are visiting the hospital. This results in them waiting for death instead of ‘wasting’ family resources
With the released report that young people are at risk, the narrative is changing. Cervical screening and breast cancer screening has seen a rise in young women knowing their status. Further to the awareness that is created, the below strategies can be adopted;
- Protecting them financially through affordable health covers as the cost of treatment is high
- Strengthening the capacity of primary health care to prevent, detect, and promptly treat most cases
- Empowering cancer survivors and encouraging their families to join support groups that will help them cope with the situation
Cancer is a menace that is yet to be declared a national pandemic. Being aware of the signs and symptoms that exist is key in the right direction to accessing prompt diagnosis and treatment. In addition to that, we ought to support those affected by showing them love and compassion as they pass through the motion. The 2021 cancer theme states ‘I am and I will’, a clear representation of the role we each have to play to save this generation one youth at a time.