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Kenya to screen more than 10 000 women for breast cancer

Nyeri County’s Deputy Governor Caroline Karugu took a mammogram test during the launch of Breast Cancer Awareness Month at Nyeri County referral hospital in Kenya. Image: @DGCarolKarugu

More than 10 000 women will benefit from a month-long breast cancer screening campaign in Kenya that aims to minimise mortality rates though early detection of the disease. The campaign that targets women between the ages of 40 and 74, will run for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is observed in October each year.

The campaign is part of Afya Care, a Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) benchmarking pilot project running in Kenya's Nyeri County, Central Province.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta launched Afya Care in December 2018 to be piloted in four of the country's counties. Kenyatta has vowed to disburse US$29 million to strengthen the health systems in the counties of Nyeri, Kisumu, Isiolo and Machakos.

The latest campaign was launched on October 9, 2019, by the Nyeri County Government, the Ministry of Health’s National Cancer Control Program and GE Healthcare, a US based medical technology company. Over 50 community healthcare volunteers and 30 healthcare professionals were trained to support the campaign, which hopes to minimise the impact of breast cancer through early detection and treatment.

Nyeri County’s Deputy Governor Caroline Karugu said the mammography screening machine in the referral hospital was under-utilised in 2018. While breast cancer was the most common cancer treated at the referral hospital, only two breast cancer tests were done every day.

“Out of the 10 cases of cancer reported at Nyeri County referral hospital, seven cases are breast cancer cases.This campaign seeks to challenge women to do their mammo-screening which saves lives.”

Data from the Global Cancer Observatory shows 5 985 new cases of breast cancer reported in Kenya in 2018. In the same year, 2 553 deaths were due to breast cancer. This means one woman already with cancer was likely to succumb to the disease for every two new reported cases.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the majority of cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries like Kenya because most women with breast cancer are diagnosed in the late stages of the disease. Lack of access to health services and a lack of awareness about early detection are some of the challenges that need to be overcome to change this.

Kenya’s National Cancer Screening Guidelines, published in 2018, recommends mammography as the main mode of screening for breast cancer. The guidelines says clinical breast examinations done during regular medical checkups can be considered as a replacement for mammography screening.

Clinical breast examinations are conducted by a trained healthcare worker, who visually checks the patient's breasts while they are seated upright, and then performs a physical exam while the patient is lying down.

Self-screening, on the other hand, has been ruled out completely as a screening method. Women, however, are still encouraged to do regular self-examinations and report any changes they notice, such as nipple discharge, a rash on the nipples, nipple retraction, dimpling or a new mass in the breast.

The guidelines recommend a combination of mammography and clinical breast examinations annually for women between the ages of 40 and 55. For women between the ages of 56 and 74, a combination of these two is recommended every two years.

Key messages from Kenya’s National Cancer Screening Guidelines

Source: Ministry of Health, Kenya

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