UNDERSTANDING CANCER

11 /02/2019

Cancer is a complex, life-threatening disease which affects millions. In fact the prevalence of cancer has increased to such an extent that today it’s one of the leading causes of death across the world.

February is World Cancer Awareness Month with World Cancer Day celebrated annually on the 4th of the month. The purpose of World Cancer Day is to raise awareness and educate people about cancer while simultaneously encourage governments and individuals to take action against the disease.

In order to do this one needs to understand the three How’s of the disease – how it occurs, how it spreads and how it can be prevented.

In layman’s terms, cancer is the abnormal, uncontrolled division of cells which can occur anywhere in the body. This irregular cell division develops, in most cases, into growths called tumours. Cancerous (aka malignant) tumours can spread to (or invade) nearby tissues and as these tumours grow, some cancer cells can break off and travel to other parts of the body through the blood or the lymph system. This results in additional tumours forming elsewhere.

Given the above explanation, it’s clear that everyone is prone to developing cancer.

However, the good news is that there are protective factors and behaviours that can lower the risk of developing the disease. These are:

  • Don’t smoke! Using tobacco (smoking, chewing and snuffing) puts one at a higher risk of getting cancer. Smoking has been linked to numerous types of cancer such as lung, mouth, throat and larynx, pancreas, bladder, cervix and kidney while chewing tobacco has been linked to cancer of the oral cavity and pancreas.
  • Don’t drink alcohol! According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), alcohol consumption raises one’s risk of cancer.
  • Watch your diet! You don’t have to count calories, but you must make better food choices and develop healthier eating habits. Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains and legumes and limit highly processed foods. This will also assist maintain a healthy weight which also lowers one’s cancer risk.
  • Be active! Exercising lowers the risk of cancer. Thirty (30) minutes of physical activity a day is all one needs.
  • Avoid the sun – especially between 10:00 and 15:00! If being in the sun is inevitable (because life happens) apply a high factor sunscreen, cover as much of your skin as possible and wear a head covering.
  • Get immunised – cancer prevention includes protection from certain viral infections such as Hepatitis B and Human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Get screened! Go for regular check-ups and do self-examinations because with certain cancers early detection greatly increases the chance of successful treatment.