Pancreatic tumour- the fastest rising killer cancer in Kenya

Pancreatic cancer may be rare but its toll is shocking.

Statistics show it is the fastest rising killer cancer in Kenya and East Africa as a whole — a trend doctors link to difficulty in detection and diagnosis.

Although it accounted for only one per cent of cancer incidence in Kenya, its fatality rates are high — killing 667 patients in 2017 alone compared to 188 in 1990, figures by Our World in Data, a research team based at the University of Oxford shows.

The trend replicates in the entire East African region where the disease has claimed 36,000 lives over the past 27 years between 1990 and 2017.

“Any cancer that arises in the pancreas is hard to detect at an early stage because it presents with non-specific symptoms.

“However, if it is in the tip of the pancreas, a patient presents with yellow eyes (jaundice) so one can catch it in its earlier stages (stage I or II),” says Fredrick Chite, a medical oncologist and haematologist and director, International Cancer Institute.

Statistics reveal that in 2017, pancreatic cancer caused the death of 419 people in Uganda compared to 125 in 1990.

In Tanzania, 774 people died of pancreatic cancer in 2017 compared to 299 in 1990. Rwanda and Burundi recorded 170 and 98 deaths in 2017 respectively.

“Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect and diagnose early because often there aren’t any noticeable signs or symptoms in the early stages.

“Sometimes the signs and symptoms, when present, are like those of many other illnesses. Moreover, the pancreas is hidden behind other organs such as the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and bile ducts. So when there are stomach pains, one can end up being treated for a condition in any of those organs,’’ said Dr Chite.

More disturbing is that the incidence of pancreatic cancer continues to rise in the region — raising fears of further rises in deaths.

A total of 511 new incidents were reported in Kenya as in 2017, about 310 in Uganda, 564 in Tanzania and 124 in Rwanda. Burundi had the lowest incidence of 74.

Stomach ache, indigestion, unexplained weight loss and faeces that float rather than sink in the lavatory can be warning signs of the potentially deadly disease, according to the Pancreatic Cancer UK.


Pancreatic cancer comes in two types — pancreatic adenocarcinoma, which is the most common (85 percent of cases) arising in exocrine glands of the pancreas, and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour, which is less common (less than five percent) and occurs in the endocrine tissue of the pancreas.

“Sometimes pancreatic cancer may not cause early signs or symptoms.

It is, therefore, important to check with your doctor if you have any of the following: Jaundice — yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, light-coloured stools, dark urine, pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back, weight loss for no known reason, loss of appetite and feeling very tired, Dr Chite advises.

The doctor explains that some risk factors of pancreatic cancer include smoking, obesity, having a personal or family history of diabetes or chronic pancreatitis. Some people also inherit gene changes from their parents that raise their risk of pancreatic cancer.

Sometimes these gene changes are part of syndromes that include increased risks of other health problems as well, according the American Cancer Society.

The diagnosis of pancreas cancer includes physical examination and history, blood chemistry studies, tumour marker test, CT-scan and abdominal and endoscopic ultrasound.“ Diagnosis is made on tissue biopsy cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.

“There are several ways to do a biopsy for pancreatic cancer. A fine needle or a core needle may be inserted into the pancreas during an X-ray or ultrasound to remove cells. Tissue may also be removed during a laparoscopy or surgery,”

Dr Chite says.

Statistics from the National Cancer Institute for the period 2014-2018, suggest that 10 per cent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the local stage had a fiveyear survival rate of 32 per cent. If the cancer is at stage III, the fiveyear survival rate is 12 percent.

By stage IV the five-year survival rate falls to below three per cent.

The five-year survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least five years after being diagnosed with cancer.

“Chance of recovery depends on whether or not the tumour can be removed by surgery, the stage of the cancer (the size of the tumour and whether cancer has spread outside the pancreas to nearby tissues or lymph nodes or other places in the body, whether cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred and the patients general health”, says the oncologist.

Pancreatic cancer can be controlled only if it is found before it has spread when it can be completely removed by surgery. If cancer has spread, palliative treatment can improve the patient’s quality of life by controlling the symptoms and complications of this disease.

Chance of recovery depends on:

Whether or not the tumour can be removed by surgery The stage of the cancer The patient’s general health Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred

8 TH KILLER Pancreatic cancer is the 8th Killer cancer, out of more than 20 cancer types.

By Kaezia Kinuthia, Business Daily

Wanga shocks MPs with cancer revelation

Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga yesterday disclosed to a parliamentary committee that she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer five years ago.

Wanga (pictured) said the disease was discovered when it was at an advanced stage and she underwent treatment.

Appearing before the National Assembly’s Health committee, an emotional Wanga said the cancer was diagnosed at a foreign hospital because local facilities were unable to identify what was ailing her.

“I went abroad to seek treatment because it was at an advanced stage. But I just think it’s God who has seen me through this,” she said.

Kibra MP Ken Okoth is also undergoing treatment in London for the same type of cancer, which affects both the colon and the rectum.

Frequent reviews

Wanga, who appeared before the committee to push for the passaging of her Cancer Prevention and Control (Amendment) Bill 2015, said since 2014 when she was treated for the disease, she has been going for frequent reviews by doctors.

“ My motivation to come up with the bill is because I was diagnosed with cancer but I was able to get treatment abroad,” she said.

She appealed to her colleagues to pass the bill which, she said, would ensure cancer is considered a component of primary care in health facilities.

The MP said cancer screening, early diagnosis, timely referrals and palliative care as well as adequate training of primary care givers would enable the country tackle the disease more effectively.

Wanga also raised concern about the performance of the National Cancer Institute of Kenya, saying it had failed in its duties.

“The institute is a sleeping giant. It has so much to do but it has failed to do its job as expected,” she said.

Source: People Daily ,BY Mercy Mwai

PHOTOS: Westlands MP is the latest friend from Kenya to visit cancer warrior Ken Okoth

Westlands MP Timothy Wanyonyi Wetangula is the latest Kenyan to pay a visit to Kibera MP and colon cancer warrior Ken Okoth in Paris, France.

Mr Wanyonyi posted a photo of the two all smiley and captioned it:

Sometimes we simply need to be there for others. Not to fix anything in particular, but to let them feel cared for and supported. Glad to have brought you some warmth. By the grace of God you, , will be back home soon.

In the photo, Ken Okoth is soldiering on, putting on a brave face even as he looks more frail than the previous photos he has posted and has shed some hair.

Ken Okoth was grateful for the visit, saying he had been feeling homesick and the visit by Mr Wanyonyi cheered up his weekend

Thank you my big brother and mentor for dedicating this Easter weekend to cheer me up and keep me company. Was feeling homesick. You brought a sense of home to me with your visit. God bless.

The last time Ken Okoth photos with Kenyans visiting him was at the start of April. He made a public appearance at the sidelines of UNESCO Executive Board meeting at Paris in France.

Cancer warrior Ken Okoth latest public appearance

He took photos with education PS Dr Belio Kipsang and former Labour CS and the current permanent representative to UNESCO Amb Phylis Kandie.


Kibra MP Ken Okoth, Education PS Belio Kipsang and Amb Phyllis Kandie, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to UNESCO

Mr Okoth has also rubbished claims that he was dead after someone on Twitter posted a message announcing the death of the Kibra MP.


Okoth has been battling colon cancer and has been posting photos of his progress as well as photos of friends from Kenya visiting him


Kamukunji MP Yusuf Hassan paid a visit to Kibra MP Ken Okoth in Paris where he is receiving treatment. PHOTO CREDIT|TWITTER Yusuf Hassan page