February 4 every year is World Cancer Day(WCD). A day set aside by WHO to call attention to cancer, and to encourage its prevention, early detection and early treatment.
In Gregory University Uturu, the day was suprintended by Pharm(Mrs) Adaeze Ucheokoro, who organised an E – line – Seminar of dissertation, questions and answers for University Community and beyond.
Cancer is not a modern disease – it has been found in dinosaur fossils, and in the remains of Java man who lived about 500,000 years ago. But in the present century it has become vastly more prevalent.
• In 1900 cancer was the seventh cause of death for USA. Unfortunately Africa has no record, but today cancer is the second cause of death in both USA and Africa.
• Some experts, though, believe this is simply because people are living longer – for likelihood of cancerous growth increases with age.
• Cancer is one of the various disorders which can result when the process of cell division in a person’s body gets out of control. Such disorders produce tissue growths called “tumours”. A cancer is a certain kind of tumour. Cancer attacks one in every four people.
• The body is constantly producing new cells for the purpose of growth and repair, about 500,000 million daily. It does this by cell division.
• In a tumour the process of cell division has gone wrong. Cell multiply in an uncoordinated way, independent of the normal control mechanism. They produce a new growth in the body, that does not fulfil a useful function. This is a tumour or a neoplasm.
• A cancer is a malignant tumour. That means, it may continue growing until it threatens the continued existence of the body.
• Cancer can grow almost any where in the body – vis skin, lungs, colon, rectum, breasts, prostrate, blood-leukaemia, etc etc.
What are the causes of cancer?
1) Chromosomal damage – Normal cells have 46 chromosomes arranged in 23 pairs. Almost all cancer cells are abnormal in the number and/or structure of these chromosomes.
2) Normal deviancy – Cells with genetic defects appear in the body every day: so many millions of cells are being made, that some mistakes are inevitable. But most die almost immediately because they are too faulty to survive or because they are recognised as abnormal and eaten by white blood corpuscles. Others are only slightly defective, and not malignant.
• Only, very rarely, do malignant cells survive and reproduce successfully. Appearance of cancer in a person may be due to this unlucky change.
• Alternatively, it may be that the body has “immunity” to such malignant cells, and, this sometimes breaks down. This would explain why cancer can remain “dormant” in a person for many years, and then suddenly manifest – God have mercy.
3) Certain chemicals – Called carcinogens, if they repeatedly come in contact with cells could cause cancer – example hydrocarbons, tobacco smoke, asbestos, etc etc.
4) Certain viruses – can cause cancer – example human papilo-virus.
5) Continued physical irritation – some experts believe that continued physical disturbances of the skin or mucous membrane can cause cancer – hence people are warned from using toxic bleaching creams containing adulterated oxidants.
6) Hereditary – Actual cancerous growths are not inherited, but a predisposition for cancer can be passed on, example – gene of breast cancer.
7) Age – Most cancers occur in the 50 to 60 age group. However children and adolescents are susceptible to leukaemia, brain tumours and Sarcomas of the bone.
8) Sex – In almost all countries, cancer occurs more frequently in men than in women, but the prominence given to breast cancer makes people think, it is the other way round.
9) Geographical location – For some unknown reasons, gastric cancer is most frequent in the Coastal and Niger Delta areas.
10) Cultural habits – Cancer of the penis is less common in societies where circumcision is practised.
What are the general symptoms of cancer?
i) Any unusual Bleeding or discharge from the mouth, genitals or anus.
ii) Any lump or thickening or swelling on the body surface, or any swelling of one limb, should be investigated by a doctor.
iii) A sore/wound that will not heal normally in a non diabetic person.
iv) Persistent constipation, diarrhoea or indigestion that is unusual for the person. Call your doctor.
v) Any increase in size or change in colour or appearance in a mole or wart – requires doctor’s attention.
vi) Hoarseness or dry cough that lasts more than six weeks.
vii) Difficulty in swallowing or urinating exceeding seven days.
viii) Sudden unexplained loss of weight.
If you develop any of these symptoms, you should visit your doctor. Nearly always, the cause will be something else, not cancer. But do not delay, let us err on the side of caution. If it is cancer, early and quick diagnosis is essential for quick treatment and cure. Always be medically guided.
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