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Cancer in Kenya


Cancer ranks third among the main causes of death in Kenya after infections and cardiovascular diseases. It accounts for up to 18 000 deaths annually, and up to 60% of those who die are in the most productive years of their lives. The five most common malignancies among men in Kenya are oesophagus cancer, prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, liver and stomach cancer. HIV/AIDS is worsening the epidemic, particularly by increasing the incidence of Kaposi’s sarcoma. In addition, a major cancer epidemic may unfold among patients benefiting from antiretroviral therapies. While patients may survive AIDS, viral associated malignancies that thrive on immunosuppression pose a serious threat.

Breast and cervical cancer are the most common cancers among women, with incidence rates of about 19% and 10% respectively. Oesophagus, stomach, ovarian, and non-Hodgkin cancers have an incidence rate of about 4.5% each. Head and neck cancers constitute a significant proportion of all cancers afflicting both men and women. Data at the adult oncology ward and treatment centre clinic at KNH indicate an alarming doubling tendency of new cases. This trend reflects unique ethno-regional distribution patterns coinciding with the socioeconomic structure of Kenya related to its history and politics; the epidemiology of cancer thus manifests inequalities in the Kenyan society. 

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