Non communicable diseases (NCDs) are now responsible for majority of global deaths, with cancer being a leading cause of death and the single most important barrier to increasing life expectancy in every country of the world in the 21st century.
Cancer is a broad term. It describes the disease that results when cellular changes cause the uncontrolled growth and division of cells. Some types of cancer cause rapid cell growth, while others cause cells to grow and divide at a slower rate.
Cells are the basic units that make up the human body. Cells grow and divide to make new cells as the body needs them. Usually, cells die when they get too old or damaged. Then, new cells take their place.
Cancer begins when genetic changes interfere with this orderly process. Cells start to grow uncontrollably. These cells may form a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread. Some types of cancer do not form a tumor. These include; leukemias, most types of lymphoma, and myeloma.
Each year on February 4, the world celebrates World Cancer Day (WCD). This empowers all across the globe to show support, raise collective voice, take personal action and press governments to do more. It is a day set aside when organisations and people around the world unite to raise awareness about cancer and work to make it a global health priority.
According to a medical expert, Dr Abia Nzelu, to stem the cancer scourge calls for urgent, concerted and consistent action by everyone in the fight against, non communicable diseases with cancer prevention and treatment as the fulcrum (known as the BIG War Against Cancer).
“Cancer is a very apt fulcrum because its risk factors include other killer diseases, such as Diabetes mellitus, hypertension, renal diseases, obesity, malaria, hepatitis, human papilloma virus infection and HIV/AIDS as well as habits like smoking, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol intake. These risk factors are common to other NCDs.
“The WCD is a global advocacy dedicated to amplify the call for action and to rally the international community to end the injustice of preventable suffering from cancer. The 2020 marks the midway point of the 3-year ‘I am and I will’ campaign. ‘I am and I will’ is an empowering call-to-action urging for personal commitment and represents the power of individual action taken now to impact the future,” she stated.
Just as cancer affects everyone in different ways, all people have the power to take various actions to reduce the impact that cancer has on individuals, families and communities.
Cancer is not just one disease. There are many types of cancer. Cancer can start in the lungs, the breast, the colon, or even in the blood. Cancers are alike in some ways, but they are different in the ways they grow and spread.
According to experts, cancer has become the world’s most expensive and deadliest disease. Prevention, early medical intervention and treatment remain the best ways to handle the disease.
Around the world, stakeholders, hold walks, seminars, public information campaigns and other events to raise awareness and educate people on how to fight cancer through screening and early detection, through healthy eating and physical activity, by quitting smoking, and by urging public officials to make cancer issues a priority.
Nzelu continued: “According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there are over 18 million new cancer cases globally and 9.6 million cancer deaths every year (about 26,000 cancer deaths daily) and this number is projected to rise.
“Furthermore, cancer is the most expensive disease globally and drives the poor and vulnerable victims deeper into poverty. The global economic toll of cancer in 2010 was 1.16 trillion dollars. Sadly, 70 per cent of cancer deaths occur in developing nations like Nigeria. Little wonder then, that Nigeria not only has the seventh lowest life expectancy globally, but is now also the poverty capital of the world.”
She however noted that every day in Nigeria, 32 women die of breast cancer, 28 women die of cervical cancer and 16 men die from prostate cancer.
“This holocaust of untimely death is due to late detection and inadequate treatment as a result of poor infrastructure and lack of organized system of preventive health care. For instance, whilst India has over 200 Comprehensive Cancer Centres, Nigeria has none.
“In addition, Nigeria has less than ten radiotherapy machines to cater for its teeming population against the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of at least one radiotherapy machine for every one million people. To make matters worse, most of these machines are outmoded and are not functional. As a result, Nigerians spend over $200 million annually to seek treatment abroad – more than thrice the amount needed to build a world-class Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC) locally!”
Overcoming the burden of cancer
Make healthy lifestyle choices that include the following: Avoid using tobacco products, getting plenty of physical activity, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol, and staying safe in the sun.
It is also important to know signs and symptoms of cancer and early detection guidelines because finding cancer early often makes it easier to treat; share stories about cancer experiences, communicate with decision-makers, and join support groups to help make positive change for all people affected by cancer.
When possible, use work and other daily activities during and after cancer treatment as opportunities to maintain normality, routine, stability, social contact, and income.
The support of cancer patients and survivors with the physical and emotional impacts of cancer even after treatment ends is essential. Call on government leaders to commit adequate resources to reduce cancer deaths and provide a better quality of life for patients and survivors.
Educate them and others about the link between certain lifestyle behaviors – including; smoking, poor diet, and lack of physical activity and cancer risk.
Dispel rumors and myths that lead to stigma and discrimination against people with cancer in some communities.
Encourage schools and workplaces to implement nutrition, physical activity, and no smoking policies that help people adopt healthy habits for life.
How are cancers alike
According to an Oncologist, Dr. Sunday Olalekan, the cells in our bodies have certain jobs to do. Normal cells divide in an orderly way.
He said: “They die when they are worn out or damaged, and new cells take their place. Cancer is when the cells start to grow out of control. The cancer cells keep on growing and making new cells. They crowd out normal cells. This causes problems in the part of the body where the cancer started.
“Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body. For instance, cancer cells in the lung can travel to the bones and grow there. When cancer cells spread, it’s called metastasis (meh-TAS-tuh-sis). When lung cancer spreads to the bones, it’s still called lung cancer. To doctors, the cancer cells in the bones look just like the ones from the lung. It’s not called bone cancer unless it started in the bones.”
She said cancers different as “some cancers grow and spread fast. Others grow more slowly. They also respond to treatment in different ways. Some types of cancer are best treated with surgery; others respond better to drugs called chemotherapy (key-mo-THER-uh-pee). Often 2 or more treatments are used to get the best results.
“When someone has cancer, the doctor will want to find out what kind of cancer it is. People with cancer need treatment that works for their type of cancer.”
Tumors vs cancer
Olalekan said: “Most cancers form a lump called a tumor or a growth. But not all lumps are cancer. Doctors take out a piece of the lump and look at it to find out if it’s cancer. Lumps that are not cancer are called benign (be-NINE). Lumps that are cancer are called malignant (muh-LIG-nunt).
There are some cancers, like leukemia (cancer of the blood), that don’t form tumors. They grow in the blood cells or other cells of the body.
“There is a fear that goes through you when you’re told you have cancer. It’s so hard in the beginning to think about anything but your diagnosis. It’s the first thing you think about every morning. I want people with cancer to know it does get better. Talking about your cancer helps you deal with all of the new emotions you are feeling. Remember, it’s normal to get upset.”
Stage of the cancer
According to Olalekan, “the doctor also needs to know if and how far the cancer has spread from where it started. This is called the cancer stage. You may have heard other people say that their cancer was stage 1 or stage 2. Knowing the stage of the cancer helps the doctor decide what type of treatment is best.
“For each type of cancer, there are tests that can be done to figure out the stage of the cancer. As a rule, a lower stage (such as a stage 1 or 2) means that the cancer has not spread very much. A higher number (such as a stage 3 or 4) means it has spread more. Stage 4 is the highest stage.
“Ask your doctor to explain the stage of your cancer and what it means for you.”
The most common treatments for cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation (ray-dee-A- shun).
Surgery can be used to take out the cancer. The doctor might also take out some or all of the body part the cancer affects. For breast cancer, part (or all) of the breast might be removed.
“For prostate cancer, the prostate gland might be taken out. Surgery is not used for all types of cancer. For example, blood cancers like leukemia are best treated with drugs,’ Olalekan said.
Chemo (short for chemotherapy) is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. Some chemo can be given by IV (into a vein through a needle), and others are a pill you swallow. Because chemo drugs travel to nearly all parts of the body, they are useful for cancer that has spread.
“Radiation is also used to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. It can be used alone or with surgery or chemo. Radiation treatment is like getting an x-ray. Sometimes it’s given by putting a “seed” inside the cancer to give off the radiation,” Olalekan said.
According to experts, your cancer treatment will depends on what is best for you. Some cancers respond better to surgery; others respond better to chemo or radiation. Knowing the type of cancer you have, therefore, is the first step toward knowing which treatments will work best for you.
The stage of your cancer will also help the doctor decide on the best treatment for you. A stage 3 or 4 cancer is likely to respond better to treatments that treat the whole body, like chemo.
“Your health and the treatment you prefer will also play a part in deciding about cancer treatment. Not all types of treatment will work for your cancer, so ask what options you have. And treatments do have side effects, so ask about what to expect with each treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s your right to know what treatments are most likely to help and what their side effects may be,” advised an expert.