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  • 03 / 02 / 2023



Why do you need to know about cancers? Apart from the phobia of

this famous non-communicable disease, which is very real, the

universal impacts of its effect have made cancer a very popular name.

Hardly can you find anybody today, who does not know someone or

know someone that knows someone that is having or has died of

cancer. I remember a few months ago, when our Association, in

addition to the usual commemoration of World Cancer Day, decided to

include free breast screening. I was part of the dispatch team to invite

the residents for the exercise. My invitation looks appealing to most of

my audience until I mention the word cancer, from then on; you could

predict the outcome of that meeting. Many people (in this part of the

world) do not like to discuss cancer, let alone volunteer for a test.

But as it stands today, cancer is still the leading cause of death globally,

and the leading non-communicable disease that has deferred most of

the conventional and unorthodox methods of treatment available. In

2020 alone, there were estimated reports of 18.1 million new cases of

cancer, scaling up the number of people around the world baffling with

cancers to 90.5million. According to the World Health Organization

global health observatory report, 9.6 million people died of cancer in

2018. Should that quotation seems small to you, that is a combination

of about five countries -Equatorial Guinea, Cyprus, Gabon, Qatar and

Swaziland put together.

We must continue to scientifically discuss cancer, evaluate the progress

achieved as we relentlessly pursue newer techniques, prevention

mechanisms and method to arrest its conundrum.




What is Cancer?

Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases characterized by

the growth of abnormal cells beyond their usual boundaries that can

then invade adjoining parts of the body and/or spread to other organs.

Other common terms used are malignant tumours and neoplasms.

Cancer can affect almost any part of the body and has many anatomic

and molecular subtypes that each require specific management


In other words, cancer can be defined as uncontrolled growth in any

part of the body. The usual death-replacement, developed–die cycles

that go on in the normal cells are quickly hijacked by a “force” which

causes the cells to multiply more than the rate it is needed, violates

every checks and balances, and lead to a disproportionate cell




Certain forms of cancer result in visible growths called tumors, while

others, such as leukemia do not. Most of the body's cells have specific

functions and fixed life spans. While it may sound like a bad thing, cell

death is part of a natural and beneficial phenomenon called apoptosis.

A cell receives instructions to die so that the body can replace it with a

newer cell that functions better. Cancerous cells lack the components

that instruct them to stop dividing and die. As a result, they build up in

the body, using oxygen and nutrients that would usually nourish other

cells. Cancerous cells can form tumors, impair the immune system and

cause other changes that prevent the body from functioning regularly.

Cancerous cells may appear in one area and then spread via the lymph

nodes. These are clusters of immune cells located throughout the body.


Causes of cancer

There are many causes of cancer.

Many are directly preventable; some are not, while others seem so

remote to the available knowledge that some term them “mysterious”.


1. Genetic Factor

Cancer can arise from the result of the interaction between a persons

genetic factors and 3 categories of external agents, including:


 physical carcinogens, such as ultraviolet and ionizing radiation;

 chemical carcinogens, such as asbestos, components of tobacco

smoke, aflatoxin (a food contaminant), and arsenic (a drinking

water contaminant); and

 biological carcinogens, such as infections from certain viruses,

bacteria, or parasites.



Genetic changes that cause cancer can be inherited from our parents.

They can also arise during a person’s lifetime as a result of errors that

occur as cells divide or because of damage to DNA caused by certain

environmental exposures. Cancer-causing environmental exposures

include substances, such as the chemicals in tobacco smoke, and

radiation, such as ultraviolet rays from the sun

In general, cancer cells have more genetic changes, such

as mutations in DNA, than normal cells. Some of these changes may

have nothing to do with cancer; they may be the result of the cancer,

rather than its cause.



2. Ageing

Ageing is another fundamental non-preventable factor for the

development of cancer. The incidence of cancer rises dramatically with

age, most likely due to a build-up of risks for specific cancers that

increase with age. According to the American Cancer Society, 87

percent of cancer diagnosis in the U.S. occurs among people ages 50

years or older. The overall risk accumulation is combined with the

tendency for cellular repair mechanisms to be less effective as a person

grows older.


3. Smoking/Alcohol – Lifestyle

Tobacco use, alcohol use, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity (which

can result in excess weight) are major cancer risk factors worldwide and

are also the four shared risk factors for other non-communicable



4. Some Bacteria and Virus Infections – Helicobacter, HIV, Hepatitis

Some chronic infections are risk factors for cancer and have major

relevance in low- and middle-income countries. Approximately 15% of

cancers diagnosed in 2012 were attributed to carcinogenic infections,

including Helicobacter pylori, Human papillomavirus (HPV), Hepatitis B

virus, Hepatitis C virus, and Epstein-Barr virus.

Hepatitis B and C virus and some types of Human Papilloma virus

increase the risk for liver and cervical cancer, respectively. Infection

with HIV substantially increases the risk of cancers such as cervical



Types of Cancer

Cancer can affect any organ or tissue in the body and it is usually

named after the organs or tissues affected.

The most common types of Cancer are:

a. Breast Cancer

b. Lung Cancer

c. Colon (intestine) and Rectum Cancer

d. Prostate Cancer (in men)

e. Skin Cancer (melanoma and non-melanoma)

f. Stomach Cancer


Symptoms of Cancer

Cancer can cause many different symptoms.

These are some of them: 


 Skin changes, such as: 

o A new mole or a change in an existing mole

o A sore that does not heal

 Breast changes, such as: 

o Change in size or shape of the breast or nipple

o Change in texture of breast skin

 A thickening or lump on or under the skin

 Hoarseness or cough that does not go away

 Changes in bowel habits

 Difficult or painful urination


 Problems with eating, such as: 

o Discomfort after eating

o A hard time swallowing

o Changes in appetite

 Weight gain or loss with no known reason

 Abdominal pain

 Unexplained night sweats

 Unusual bleeding or discharge, including: 

o Blood in the urine

o Vaginal bleeding

o Blood in the stool

 Feeling weak or very tired


Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer. They may also be

caused by benign tumors or other problems. If you have symptoms that

last for a couple of weeks, it is important to see a physician so that

problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. 

Usually, early cancer does not cause pain. If you have symptoms, do not

wait to feel pain before seeing your healthcare professional.


How to Prevent Cancer

The good news is that between 30 and 50% of cancers can be


1. Avoid smoking

2. Maintain a healthy body weight ( BMI not more than 24.9)

3. Eat a healthy diet; intentionally include fruits and vegetables in

your daily meals

4. Engage in physical activity regularly (exercise)

5. Avoid or reduce consumption of alcohol

6. Get vaccinated against Hepatitis and Human papilloma virus (HPV)

(see your healthcare practitioner for advice)

7. Avoid long exposure to the sun and other ultraviolet radiation

sources. Healthcare professionals involved in the use of ionizing

radiation for diagnosis (x-ray) must protect themselves with the

appropriate shield.

8. Reduce your exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution

including radioactive substances and other volatile or industrial




Happy World Cancer Day

Early Detection Save Lives

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