Cancer expert pushes for early screening

Wednesday March 18 2020

An elderly woman has her blood pressure checked at Mweru, Meru County, on April 10, 2017 during a free medical camp. Early cancer screening is important in fighting cancer. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Early screening for some cancers can lead to treatment of life-threatening tumours, a top oncologist has said.

According to Professor Nicolas Abinya, cancer awareness in Kenya has greatly improved in the last few decades.

He says the number going for early testing, screening and diagnosis has gone up but some bottlenecks still have to be addressed.

“Sadly, some like stomach and colon cancer might not be detected in their early stages. That aside, the type and the cost of screening for such type of cancers are very high for a majority of Kenyans,” he added.

According to Dr Andrew Odhiambo, early diagnosis is important as it increases the chances of successful treatment.

Breast cancer can easily be treated if detected early, he said.


“If a 40-year-old comes for a mammogram and abnormal cells are detected on a breast and a diagnosis of cancer is made, science has shown that one is more likely to be cured than someone who feels a lump,” Dr Odhiambo said.

“This is because the cancer was detected before the person could even feel it. It could be breast cancer Stage One or Two and that can be easily cured. Once one can feel a lump, it may probably be cancer in Stage Three or Four.”

He added that the idea of screening was to identify the cancer before the lump is felt.

“That is cheap and makes sense. A mammogram will cost around Sh3,000 compared to treatment that may not be less that Sh1 million,” Dr Odhiambo said.

“Cervical cancer follows the same principal. Pap smear needs to be done once every three to five years, depending on previous results. Early changes in the cervix when noted in time can be treated cheaply and effectively.”

However, prostate cancer screening in men is debatable.

Dr Odhiambo advises on the importance of a pre-testing discussion with an oncologist and urologist on the pros and cons of the screening, especially if one does not have a family history of the cancer.


For those with a history of prostate cancer, screening is necessary.

“A 55-year-old man who wants to do a PSA — Blood screening test — needs to understand the implications of negative or a positive results,” he said.

Mr Mordecai Obong’o, 29, went for his annual check-up last month.

He wanted to be screened for prostate cancer but was advised to go back when he was at least 35.

“I have heard of the importance of cancer screening. I thought I should have had it when I went for check-up,” he said.

“The doctor told me I was too young to be screened for prostate cancer and there was no need for it if no family member had had it.”

Certain cancers attack the body, based on one’s age.

Men between 35 and 50 are advised to go for prostate cancer screening just like certain common cancers in women.

Cost has been cited as one of the main reasons for delayed screening.

The distance to hospitals also deters many Kenyans, especially in rural areas, to have the tumours detected early.

Cancer accounts for seven per cent of annual deaths in Kenya and is now a common illness.

Some cancers run in the family. Relatives of people who have had cancer are advised to go for early screening.

Smoking predisposes one to hereditary cancer such as lung and throat.

Studies have also linked cancer to obesity and overweight. For such individuals, screening is important.

Cancers that affect internal organs are not easy to detect.

“There is no one test that can pick them up. The test could also be costly or it might cause more damage to the person’s organs.

"However, we usually advise people to go for early colon cancer screening, especially if a family member has been victim,” Dr Odhiambo said.

“The same is the case if you reach a particular age. Screening can be easily done through colonoscopy.”

If abnormalities that cannot be dealt with on the spot are found, one is advised to be going for screening often.

Cervical cancer, second most common, can be prevented through vaccination.