Today, February 4, is marked across the universe as the World Cancer Day, reminding us of the need to be proactive in the fight to end cancer. Globally, cancer has become the most common cause of morbidity and mortality. However, only a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa have updated data on the incidence and prevalence of cancer, despite its growing threat to our public health.
A 2018 cancer report from the World Health Organisation has shown that the most common cancers in Nigeria are the breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancer. The good news is, these cancers are some of the most preventable forms.
The 2018-2022 Cancer Control Plan endorsed by the then Minister for Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, has shown that an extensive amount of work is being channelled into the reduction of the incidence and prevalence of cancer in Nigeria. However, we must take active measures towards prevention and early detection, and reduction of cancer risk factors.
The 2021 World Cancer Day theme, “I can, we can”, shows that we all can overcome those barriers to prevention, early cancer diagnosis, and treatment. We can work together to reduce premature deaths from cancer and cancer-related illnesses.
Every year, over 72,000 Nigerians die of cancer, and about 102,000 new cases diagnosed annually. This is not inclusive of those individuals who never made it to the hospital for a diagnosis or ended up in hospitals with poor access to data collection and management. Despite these dreadful statistics, we still find a lot of Nigerians who have never visited a doctor’s office for preventive health screenings, or continue to practise very risky behaviours.
While scientists and medical professionals are working for a more-lasting approach to managing and curing cancer, we can do a lot to protect ourselves and to prevent the devastating and complicating effects of cancer. Screening tests have been found to help detect malignancies in their earliest stages. However, there are certain symptoms that must not be overlooked, as they may indicate the presence of a malignancy.
Years ago, the American Cancer Society developed this simple reminder to help draw our attentions to a possible malignancy:
- C: Change in bowel or bladder habits
- A: A sore that does not heal
- U: Unusual bleeding or discharge
- T: Thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere
- I: Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
- O: Obvious change in a wart or mole
- N: Nagging cough or hoarseness
Having any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that there is a malignancy, as a vast majority of them can also be caused by nonmalignant disorders. Cancers can also be associated with weight loss, tiredness, a headache that would not go away, and so many other symptoms not mentioned above. This makes it necessary that we know our bodies, and immediately seek medical attention at the sight or perception of anything unusual.
Early diagnosis is very crucial for a successful cancer treatment, and a greater percentage of cancer deaths can be prevented. The American Cancer Society and Harvard Medical School have recommended some of the following measures for cancer prevention:
Avoid smoking, exposure to tobacco and secondhand smoke: Toxins from smokes can weaken the immune system, change cellular DNA, making cells grow out of control or boundaries.
Maintain a healthy weight: Foods high in saturated fat, with less fibre, and low in fruits and vegetables can increase an individual’s risk for colon cancer and other gastrointestinal (GI) system-related cancers. To prevent this, eat foods that contain more vegetables and fruits, use unsaturated cooking oils, eat foods rich in fibre and drink lots of water.
Get lots of sleep: While there is not enough evidence backing up the relationship between lack of sleep and cancer, weight gain from poor sleep habits have been known to cause weight gain, which is a risk factor for cancer.
Stay active: Exercise and physical activity enables weight management, and reduces the risk for colon/colorectal cancers.
Drink alcohol modestly, or don’t drink at all: Excessive intake of alcoholic beverages increases the risk for most cancers of the GI system.
Avoid unnecessary exposures to radiation and radioactive elements: Ultraviolet rays have been known to cause certain skin cancers and melanomas.
Practise safe sex and avoid activities while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Practices involving sharing of needles have been known to increase the chances of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C, which in the presence of a continuous scarring and inflammation, may lead to liver cancer.
- Supplement your vitamin D intake: Health experts have recommended a daily intake of 800 to 1000 International Units of vitamin D for immune support. It is almost impossible to obtain this amount of Vitamin from regular food intake, making supplementation a necessity.
Practise good oral hygiene: Some researchers have discovered that over 34,000 adults with poor to fair oral health were more likely to be infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which in certain cases, leads to cancer.
Get screened: Check your body for cancer before symptoms appear. Cancer screening has been helpful in detecting breast, cervical, and colon/colorectal cancers early, or at a stage when treatment is most likely to be effective.
Declan Edith is oncology certified registered nurse and Adjunct Nursing Professor Houston Community College, Houston Texas, USA
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