Suicidal Cancer Patients Worry Health Experts, by Elizabeth Ombati

A high number of terminally ill cancer patients are emotionally disturbed and lack good psychological care, a new study has shown. Conducted at the Kenyatta National Hospital, the study found that psychological distress could have a serious negative impact on patients with advanced cancer or those who are terminally ill, including reducing their quality of life. 

The study, which sampled 389 patients at the hospital’s oncology clinic, established that depression makes many patients desire to commit suicide. Researchers found a high prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders at 44 and 69.2 % respectively, among respondents.

In the study, the Psychological and social profiles of cancer patients seen at KNH, shows prevalence rate of depression is much higher than in the general population.  It found that 93% of cancer respondents who had stage three and four cancers had several depression disorders.  It also found that 42.4% of the respondents were feeling hopeless about their situation.  The research established that most patients lack psychological care, especially counseling before being informed they had cancer.  “Slightly more than a half of the respondents 56.7% of 251 people, were counseled after the news of having cancer had been broken to them, while 43.3% (138) did not having received any counselling” according to the report.

The researchers note that news of the diagnoses is always broken without proper preparation; hence the patient receives the news as though it is a death sentence. The risk of suicide among the respondents was high at 93% (362) people. Half of respondents said they thought of committing suicide in the past 12 months. However, many had not attempted to end their lives.

ABOUT THE STUDY
The study was led by Prof David Ndetei who was the principal investigator and his two co-principal investigators, Dr. Alice Muthnoi Musibi, a medical specialist in oncology at the hospital.  Others who took part are Dr. Joyce Nato, national professional officer in charge, non-communicable disease including mental health, and WHO Kenya country office.  The highest number of respondents 33.3% (130) had breast cancer, followed by 24.5% (95) having gynecological cancers, then 14.8% (56) having gastrointestinal cancer, 8.2% (32) with ear, nose and throat cancer. The rest had various cancers including skin cancer, bone cancer, lung cancer, and kidney cancer.

In Kenya, the most common cancers in men are esophagus, prostate and Kaposi’s sarcoma. And in women breast cancer is the leading cause of death followed by cervical and throat cancer. KNH cancer department attends to 150 patients daily. Out of 28,000 cancer cases diagnosed across the country in 2011, at least 22, 000 people died. This is mainly attributed to late diagnoses. Worldwide, it is estimated that seven million people die from cancer annually.