Often referred to as the “big C”, the rising rate of cancer is a thing of concern. Many have said that the fear of the diagnosis is worse than the discomfort from the symptoms experienced. Cancer is a disease that occurs when there is uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. There are many different types of cancer and they are usually named according to the part of the body they originate from. For instance, breast cancer from the breast, lung cancer from the lungs, colon cancer from the colon, prostate cancer from the prostate gland, cervical cancer from the cervix, blood cancer, bone cancer, skin cancer to mention a few, cancer can actually originate from any part of the body.
Cells in the body are constantly dividing and replicating themselves throughout life to replace worn out or dead cells and this takes place in a regulated way. However, when the multiplication of cells begin to occur persistently in an uncontrolled manner, leading to formation of abnormal cells which cannot perform same function as the normal cells because they have not formed properly, cancer results. Cancer can affect individuals of all ages, young and old, it also cuts across sexes, ethnic or religious background, educational or social status. There have been many misconceptions about cancer but due to increased awareness more people are getting informed on the condition. In some parts of Nigeria, cancer is believed to be a spiritual problem whose solution can only be obtained spiritually. It is also thought to affect only the elderly and those living in developed countries.
The sad part is that many cancers can prevented because in many cases, they were caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices. Also, low health literacy on how to lead healthier lives and prevent diseases has contributed to the increasing rate. Poor health seeking behaviour amongst many to screen or complain about symptoms experienced lead to late presentation in health facilities which often lead to poorer outcomes. Many who develop symptoms will seek other sources of perceived intervention before finally going to the hospital and when they eventually do, the disease would have progressed onto a more severe stage with worse prognosis.
Some cancers run in families and are considered to be hereditary while some develop spontaneously and are referred to as sporadic. In many cases, the cause of cancers is unknown. However, many risk factors have been associated to cancer, some of which could be inherited risk factors, for example, genetic mutations that occur in breast cancer, colon cancer and others or non- inherited risk factors/ acquired factors, for example, infections(E.g human papilloma virus, Human immunodeficiency virus, helicobacter pylori), tobacco consumption, sedentary lifestyle( lack of physical activity), overweight or obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, exposure to radioactive substances, air pollution, poor diet amongst many others. The symptoms of cancer vary according to the organ or tissue affected, the stage of the cancer and the level of treatment instituted. Some symptoms of cancer but not exclusive to cancers include fatigue, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, back pain, headache, dizziness, lump, abnormal skin change, abdominal swelling, body swelling, yellowish discolouration of the eyes, persistent cough, difficulty in breathing, irregular or abnormal menstrual bleeding, to mention a few. The diagnosis of cancer is done by a medical practitioner following thorough medical history taking and clinical examination, relevant laboratory investigations to establish, support, confirm diagnosis and assist treatment. Modalities of investigation will vary depending on the tissue or organ affected and stage of disease. Although the number of people diagnosed with cancer was reported to be on the rise in some areas, there are numerous on-going research and intervention which offer hope to those affected and actually prolong life.
There are various modalities for treating cancers depending on the part of the body, stage of disease and other factors considered important. Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy, Surgery, Palliation are some adopted measures.
Prevention as they say is better than cure, it is beneficial to everyone that cancers are prevented to reduce the burden of the disease on the individual, family, community and country at large, health care costs and other negative effects of cancer on the society as a whole. Prevention can be discussed at several levels, adequate vaccination will offer protection to the individual where available, regular health screening is advised so as to identify the disease at the early stage when treatment will be effective and prognosis better.
Lifestyle modifications, like avoiding tobacco, moderate consumption of alcohol, limiting exposure to radioactive substances, radiation, eating healthy, regular exercise, treating infections promptly. Early presentation to the health facilities will lead to early diagnosis which will prevent untoward complications and prolong life. Joining support groups also help prevent psychological effects of cancer on an individual. Government is urged to support more cancer research for newer, more effective intervention to be identified in fighting the battle against cancer.
Cancer was formerly regarded as a death sentence, however, many who are affected are living longer, happier lives with improved intervention, family support, positive minds. Routine cancer screening is important and your primary care provider will recommend accordingly which is best suited for your age, sex among other factors.
Health quote of the week:
“Once you choose hope, anything is possible”
– Christopher Reeve