Cancer develops as a result of abnormal cell growth with the potential of invading or spreading to other parts of the body. Unlike benign tumors, which do not spread to other parts of the body, cancer like malignant tumor spreads to other parts of the body. Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, emaciation and a change in bowel movements. Moreover these symptoms may indicate other ailments other than cancer, hence proper check is imperative. Over 100 types of cancers affect humans.
Researchers reported that tobacco use is the cause of about 22% of cancer-related deaths and another 10% are due to obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and excessive drinking of alcohol, however, other factors include certain infections, exposure to ionizing radiation and environmental pollutants. In the developing world nearly 20% of cancers are due to infections such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and human papillomavirus infection. These factors act, at least partly, by changing the genes of a cell. Meanwhile, many genetic changes are required before cancer develops.
Approximately 5–10% of cancers are due to inherited genetic defects from a person’s parents. Cancer can be diagnosed through medical imaging and confirmed by biopsy.
Many cancers can be prevented by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking too much alcohol, eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, vaccination against certain infectious diseases, not eating too much processed and red meat, and avoiding too much sunlight exposure.
80% of children under 15 that are diagnosed of cancer, have five-year survival rate in the developed world.
The recent alarm on rising global incidence of cancer by the World Health Organisation (WHO) should worry African countries, including Nigeria, where the disease is most prevalent.
Available statistics show that cancer killed 7.6 million persons in 2008 worldwide, and there is indication that the figure could double to 13 million by 2030.
According to WHO, cancer accounts for 13 percent of all deaths registered globally and 70 percent of that figure occurs in middle and low income countries.
In Nigeria, about 10,000 cancer deaths are recorded annually while 250,000 new cases are recorded yearly. It is also worrisome that only 17 percent of African countries are said to have sufficiently funded cancer control programmes, while less than half of all countries in the world have functional plans to prevent the disease and provide treatment and care to patients.
WHO indicates that the shortage of functional cancer control plans is especially alarming in developing countries, which already account for more than two-thirds of the new cancer cases and deaths each year.
However, if detected early, many types of cancer can be cured. It also does not discriminate. It is a global epidemic that affects all ages with low and middle income countries bearing a disproportionate burden of it.
In Nigeria, breast and cervical cancers are commonest among women while prostate cancer is more prevalent in men. Since there is low awareness of the disease in the country as at now, more efforts should be directed in the area of massive awareness creation for the general populace.
People needs to be enlightened on what causes the condition, preventative measures and available treatment options. The disease should no longer be treated as a death sentence or something that has to do with fate.
*This is why the theme for this year’s World Cancer Day is “We can, I can”. We can all reduce the global burden of cancer through our self awareness as regards our health, consumption of healthy foods and fruits, abstinence from smoking and alcoholism*.