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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.
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
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
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
8. Reduce your exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution
including radioactive substances and other volatile or industrial
Early Detection Save Lives