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Cancer, a family’s health and financial scourge

Cancer has become one of the leading killer diseases world over. Treatment of the disease is quite draining financially and has left most families bankrupt after selling assets to treat their loved ones. There have also been so many crowdfunding initiatives as families find ways to raise funds for the treatment of their loved ones.

In Kenya, cancer is now the 3rd leading cause of deaths and second among non- communicable diseases accounting for 7% of overall mortality rate. It is reported that between 28,000 to 30,000 people die annually from cancer. Most of these deaths are due to lack of treatment owing to prohibitive cost of cancer care even in public hospitals. Most cancer cases in Kenya are diagnosed at advance stages mostly due to the population not taking regular screenings, inadequate screening or misdiagnosis.

Risk Factors

The risk factors for cancer are quite many. Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA) in their Kenya National Cancer Control Strategy 2017-2022, the risk factors are categorised into four types: 1. Behavioural risk factors that include tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity; 2) Biological risk factors that include overweight, obesity, age, sex of the individual; 3) Environmental risk factors include exposure to environmental carcinogens such as chemicals e.g asbestos and aflatoxins, radiations e.g ultraviolet and ionizing radiation and infectious agents e.g. certain viruses (Hepatitis B & C, HPV, EBV, HIV), bacteria and parasites; and 4) Genetic risk factors.


KEHPCA states that the primary goals of cancer treatment are cure, prolongation of life and improvement of quality of life. The methods of treatment are surgery, chemotherapy (hormonal and targeted therapy), cryotherapy, loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), radiotherapy, brachytherapy, therapeutic nuclear medicine (targeted radionuclide therapy), stem cell transplant, palliative and supportive care, rehabilitation, end of life care and survivorship.

Palliative care (PC) for both paediatrics and adults is an approach that improves the quality of life of cancer patients and their families, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual (WHO 2002).

Palliative care is the active total care of the body, mind and spirit of the patient, and involves giving support to the family from the time of diagnosis and throughout the continuum of care.

The Cost of Cancer Treatment

As population grows and ages, cumulative economic losses to low and middle income countries (LMICs) are estimated at USD 1.5 trillion over the period 2011-2025 (an average of USD 107 billion per year) (Steward and Wild, 2014).

It costs between Sh172,000 and Sh759,000 to treat cervical cancer without surgery in Kenya and Sh672,000 to Sh1.25million if one undergoes an operation, according to researchers affiliated to the National Cancer Control Programme and the National Cancer Institute, Kenya.

Patients seeking basic treatment for breast cancer pay between Sh175,200 and Sh1.98 million while the cost shoots up to between Sh758,000 and Sh2.48 million when surgery — which would be either a lumpectomy, quadrantectomy, partial mastectomy, or segmental mastectomy — is involved.

Treating prostate cancer in Kenya costs between Sh138,000 and Sh1.21 million while esophageal cancer costs between Sh1 million and Sh126,000. (Business Daily)

An average cost of radiotherapy service at Kenyatta National Hospital is Ksh 3,600 per session and a patient might have to take at several sessions a month.

Insurance companies have started designing products that are specific to cancer in response to the needs of patients and their families. ICEA Lion has a product specific for cancer treatment, ICEA Lion Cancer Insurance Policy, which is designed to provide pay-outs in the event that one is diagnosed with invasive cancer or a benign brain tumour. NHIF also covers cancer treatment among other underwriters. These products will reduce the burdens families will face in an unfortunate event that a family member is diagnosed with cancer.

Image: Courtesy.

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