After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, Mercy Mutiso underwent multiple chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment sessions to manage the condition.
The illness went into remission for two years but re-emerged late last year.
Now she has to begin the treatment cycle all over again whilst dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy such as hair loss, fatigue, diarrhoea and nausea.
Long term consequences of the treatment include the increased risk of heart disease, kidney complications, depression disorders, bone or muscle problems and reproductive health challenges.
Thousands of patients like her could be beneficiaries of local medicinal plants that researchers at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) have identified as possessing abundant anti-cancer properties.
Key among them is the Moringa Oleifera plant (commonly known as moringa) that according to the scientists, has the ability to slow down the growth of cancer cells in the body.
Compared to chemotherapy drugs which attack both cancerous and normal body cells, the researchers found that moringa was apt at targeting only the “bad” cells and sparing the “good” ones.
Dr Peter Mwitari, director of the Centre for Traditional Medicine and Drug Research (CTMDR) at Kemri told the Business Daily that moringa could thus help in the development of alternative cost-effective cancer treatment remedies to complement or replace chemotherapy drugs.
He noted that the initiative would save thousands of cancer patients like Mutiso from having to grapple with the multiple side- effects of chemotherapy that often emerge after the treatment destroys healthy cells in the body.
“You may find that the high death rate among some cancer patients is largely as a result of chemotherapy side effects than the disease itself. That’s why we need to keep looking for other treatment options,” said Dr Mwitari who was also the lead author of the study.
Due to its ability to supress the growth of cancerous cells, he noted that moringa could also be useful in preventing the rapid multiplication or migration of cancer cells that usually make it hard for doctors to manage and effectively treat the disease.
“When cancer is localised in a particular area, doctors can easily target the affected part with appropriate interventions early enough, before the cancer gets out of control and spreads to the rest of the body.”
Based on the findings of the study, Dr Mwitari stated that moringa may also play a significant role in delaying the onset of cancer disease among healthy individuals and thus end up preventing it altogether.
Cancer cells are produced by the body all the time. But with the right nutrient intake, the body’s immunity is able to attack and deter them from growing to a level where they can cause the disease.
It is thus possible for healthy people to harbour cancerous cells in their bodies and die without ever showing symptoms of the disease.
For instance, autopsy studies conducted among deceased men that died of other causes have found some to have prostate cancer that never caused them any harm throughout their lifetime since the tumour was so slow in growing.
“That’s why we want to encourage people to eat moringa and make it a part of their normal diet. More so now, that we have evidence of its anticancer properties,” said Dr Mwitari.
He added: “Cancer has no known cause or cure. So prevention is the best weapon we have against it.”