The World Health Organization marks the World Cancer Day on the 4th of February every year. It is an annual event initiated by the Union for International Cancer Control that calls on people, organizations and government agencies around the world to unite in the fight against the cancer. This is quite imperative considering the rate of deaths caused by the deadly disease.
According to the World Health Organization, cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide with a rate of 13 million new cancer cases yearly. Unfortunately, two-thirds of these newly diagnosed cancer cases are found in the developing countries which makes it an important issue that cannot be overlooked in Africa. Unfortunately, not so many people are aware that the disease kills more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
The campaign focus for this year was on improving the general knowledge around cancer and dispelling conceptions about the disease. Creating awareness about the disease is key as knowledge is power. To that extent, I would be trying to give an insight to what cancer is all about, the causes and the prevention.
Cancer is a class of disease characterized by out-of-control cell growth. It harms the body when damaged cells divide uncontrollably to form lumps or masses of tissue called tumors, except in the case of leukemia where cancer prohibits normal blood function by abnormal cell division in the blood stream.
There are 100 different types of cancer, classified by the type of cell that is initially affected. In Africa, the most common are the uterine cervix, hepatocellular form of liver cancer, breast, prostate, AIDS/HIV related malignancies (Kaposi Sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cervical cancer and ocular tumors) and childhood malignancies (higher Lymphoma, lower leukaemia, lower Glioma and higer Retinoblastoma). Some of the symptoms include, unexplained weight loss, fever, fatigue, pain, skin changes, change in the bowel habits or bladder functions (common for prostate or bladder cancer), sores that do not heal (common to skin cancers and oral cancer), white patches inside the mouth or white spots on the tongue ( common to leukoplakia), unusual bleeding or discharge (common to colon or rectal cancer, cervix cancer, bladder or kidney cancer), thickening or lump in the breast or other parts of the body, indigestion or trouble swallowing (common to cancer of the oesophagus). Note that there are other signs and symptoms not listed here.
Contrary to some schools of thought, certain types of cancer can be prevented. The WHO reports that at least one-third of all cancer cases are preventable. According to the Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN), to reduce the risk of having cancer, one should adopt certain lifestyle changes such as; getting at least 30minutes of physical activity each day, eating balanced diet with a high content of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, consume less of fat and sugar, limit the intake of alcohol and avoid smoking and exposure to smoke.
In the eventuality that someone reading this article has been diagnosed of cancer, it is not the end of the world. It is not a death sentence. It can be treated if detected early. According to an article by Blessing Ekum, a significant proportion of cancers can be treated by surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
In trying to see that we reduce the rate of deaths caused by cancer, especially in Africa, I would advise the governments and NGOs to take advantage of the Global Initiative for Cancer Registry Development in Low and Middle Income Countries (GICR) introduced by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). This initiative, according to the director of IARC, Dr. Christopher Wild, is supporting mainly those countries that lack resources to efficiently fight cancer. The registries will help to measure cancer incidence and the availability of life-saving interventions such as cervical cancer screening and palliative care for cancer patients among others.
Let us all strive to fight against the disease by getting informed, informing others and helping those who have the disease.