Fighting Gynecologic Cancers in Kenya


Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is helping Kenyan physicians develop a fellowship training program to advance prevention and treatment of gynaecologic cancers in Western Kenya. This relationship began in 2008, when Barry Rosen, Head of the Familial Breast and Ovarian Cancer Clinic at The Princess Margaret, travelled to Kenya. “It was shocking. I had never seen so many cases of advanced cervical cancer affecting young women – these women were often in their 30s and 40s with young children at home,” says Dr. Rosen. “But I was so impressed with the resiliency of the doctors, women, children and people working in the centre. The physicians were fantastic – what they lacked were resources.”
In September 2012, a team from The Princess Margaret dedicated time to training two Kenyan doctors for six weeks in the areas of palliative care, radiation oncology and pathology. The training is part of the first sub-specialty fellowship program in gynecologic oncology at Moi University School of Medicine and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) in Eldoret, Kenya, in partnership with the University of Toronto’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
In sub-Saharan Africa, cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in women; once diagnosed, the mortality rate is 80%, compared to 20% in Canada. Dr. Rosen believes training and support to Kenyan physicians will improve patient outcomes. The Kenyan doctors, Elkanah Omenge and Peter Itsura, were the first Kenyans trained in a gynecologic oncology subspecialty.
In collaboration with the University of Toronto and AMPATH, Drs. Omenge, Itsura and Rosen have helped implement a cervix cancer screening program in Kenya. In its first year, the cervix cancer screening program saw 150 women and by the second year, 1,000 women were treated. This year, Dr. Omenge, leader of the program, anticipates over 14,000 women will be treated. In 2010, Dr. Rosen returned to Kenya and trained Drs. Omenge and Itsura to perform radical hysterectomies and pelvic lymphadenectomies to treat early cervical cancer. To date, close to 60 lives have been saved because of these procedures.