Friendlier targeted therapy tipped to transform treatment

Thursday, August 1st, 2019 00:00 |
Cancer scourge.

The introduction of targeted therapy is likely to revolutionalise cancer treatment, with latest advancements billed to be more gentle on patients and with lesser side effects.

Former Kenya Pharmaceutical Association (KPA) chairman Newton Siele, also a board member of Kenya Cancer Association, says the newer model treatment of cancer is expensive,  with cost of targeted therapy treatment estimated at about Sh5 million per year.

“In targeted treatment which is one of the products used in the treatment of breast cancer, a year’s  therapy goes for at least Sh5 million… how many Kenyans do you think can afford that?” poses Siele in an exclusive interview with People Daily.

According to him, targeted therapies are currently the focus of much anticancer drug development.

“When people hear about cancer, what comes to mind is the negative side effects of chemotherapy, including hair and weight loss,” says Siele.

“But now cancer treatment has evolved. Targeted therapy is the latest advancement with fewer side effect. Doctors have far much more knowledge on how to manage some of these cancers,” he added.

He also says emergence of surgical techniques to either remove or shrink tumours is a boost to cancer treatment given that it complements administration of targeted therapy.

“When you remove the tumour, it becomes easier to use medication,” said the pharmacist.

The practice, he said, is a departure from the initial approach where doctors would use a particular drug to try and hit cancer hard adding: “When you hit cancer hard, you also hit the patient hard.”

Growing cells

However, the high costs attached to the modern cancer treatment forces doctors to go back to the traditional chemotherapy drugs.

“Unfortunately, the drugs which most Kenyans can afford are harsh and weaken growing cells,” Siele says.

After Kenya Cancer Association and other stakeholders started raising the red flag about growing cases of cancer deaths in 2012, the first task was to establish the national protocol or formulary which also involved getting the experts in cancer to advise on the rising cases of cancer and possible treatment.

It is against this backdrop that the Kenya Medical Supplies Authorities (KEMSA) started procuring some cancer medications.

By then, the biggest public cancer clinics were in Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, which are allowed to float their own tenders to purchase medication.

Basic drugs

However according to the former KPA chair, Kemsa still procures basic cancer medication such as Tamoxifen, a hormonal drug used to treat breast cancer alongside Letrozole and Anazostrole. The efficacy of such drugs, he says, is low.

“Since the inception of devolution, we have also seen other counties such as Meru, Mombasa and Kisii trying to invest in the fight against diseases by setting up cancer centres. Therefore, there is still a big room for Kemsa to get into full procurement of cancer medications,” explained the pharmaceutical technologist.

He says referral hospitals such as KNH and MTRH have bigger variety of drugs and have been handling more varieties of cancers including cancer of the blood, cancer of the stomach and colon, as well as head and neck cancers which are also common.

Cancer is the third leading cause of death in Kenya after malaria and pneumonia.

Recent deaths of prominent persons from cancer have seen politicians and Kenyans for declaration of the diseases as a national disaster.

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