The earliest known descriptions of cancer appear in several papyri from ancient Egypt. The Edwin Smith Papyrus was written around 1600 BC, a procedure to remove breast tumours by cauterisation. By 2nd century AD, it was discovered that cancer could occur anywhere in the body.

Cancer is caused by accumulated damage to genes, such changes may be due to changes or exposure to a cancer causing substance called carcinogens. The more I grow up, the more questions I still have on how my dad got cancer. I know I might sound naive. According to researchers it starts with the change of a cell. A primary tumour is where the cancer starts. My dad had leukaemia; they say it starts from the blood cell.

Many studies have concluded that cancer has a distinct smell. Dogs can be trained to recognise cancer by smelling patients, but there’s no certainty about what causes the smell. Humans are not able to smell cancer. Ulcerating tumours are rare, if you have one it is quite possible it will have an unpleasant odour.

Now cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million death in 2018. The most common forms of cancer are breast- and lung cancer. Scientists found that for breast cancer and bowel tumour, they can grow around 2-5 years before they are detected. Based on date [2013-2015] 38% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.

In 1999, when my dad had cancer, it was really misconceived. Most people would just associate it with HIV/AIDS or just thought that cancer is a cover up story. Some would stay away from patients with cancer. It is even worse in rural areas in Kenya, because there is lack of information and misinformation too. Myths and misconceptions exist as well as stigma. In 2019 there were 35 oncologist for more than 40 million people and 12 centres in Kenya. Kenya carries the regional burden too, being a neighbour to countries like South Sudan which do not have oncologist and where the only available treatment for cancer is surgery. This makes waiting time longer.

Today, the 4th of February marks world cancer to raise awareness of cancer to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment. The cancer theme of 2019-2021 is I AM AND I WILL.

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