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Cancer: A Marauding Beast on the Loose

Cancer has become a global burden and has taken massive resources within the last decade with no significant improvement. As at the end of 2017 according to World Health Organization (WHO), cancer killed 17 people every minute and about 24.6 million people lived with cancer world-wide.

In 2018, an estimate of 9.6 million deaths had resulted due to cancer. A review on the epidemiology and incidence of common cancers in Nigeria by some scholars revealed WHO’s prediction of 16 million new cases of cancer to be diagnosed per annum  by 2020, out of which 70% will be in developing countries.

Nigeria is a developing country with vast human capital and less advanced diagnostic centres in the health industry to accommodate care of the masses.

The commonest types of cancers globally as seen in the review were lungs, breast, colorectal, prostate, skin and stomach (gastric) cancers and the most leading cause of deaths were cancers of lungs, colorectal, stomach, liver and breast.

In Nigeria, the commonest cancers in women are breast, cervix, ovarian, non- melanoma skin cancer and colorectal cancers, while in the men; prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer, followed by non-melanoma skin cancer, colorectal, liver, Kaposi sarcoma and non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

These Cancers results when a normal cell begins to transform into abnormal cell, growing without control and invading into other organs also referred to as metastasis.

Such unusual cell transformation can result with exposure to Physical carcinogens such as Ultraviolet radiations as seen in sunlight and specialized lights and ionizing radiation as we have in X-rays and smoke detector appliances.

Chemical carcinogens such as asbestos that are usually seen in some workplaces and homes causing lung cancers, tobacco smokes, aflatoxins- a food contaminant, arsenic found in contaminated ground water and Biological carcinogens such as infections from certain pathogens.

Viruses such as Human papiloma virus HPV causingcervical cancer, hepatitis B and C viruses causing liver and pancreatic cancer. Epstein –Barr virus causes Burkitt lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Kaposi’s Sarcoma –associated herpes causes Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Helicobacter Pylori, a bacteria increases the risk of stomach cancers and lymphoma and Parasites like Opisthorchis viverrini and Clonorchis sinensis (flatworms) increases risk of cancer of the bile duct and Schistosoma heametobium has been commonly linked to bladder cancer.

Factors such as Tobacco use (cigarettes smoking and smokeless tobacco), Alcohol intake, Obesity, Unhealthy diet with low fruits and vegetables, Physical inactivity (sedentary lifestyle), Infection by hepatitis and other carcinogenic infections, Aging, Environmental/urban air pollution, Sexually transmitted HPV infection, Indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels, Exposure to UV radiation, skin tanning and bleaching puts people at high risk of cancer

We need to be educated on the prevention and early detection of precancerous cells in order to reduce the global cancer challenge. Reports have it that between 30% – 50% of all cancer cases is preventable and prevention is the most cost effective long term strategy to curb cancer.

To achieve this, there is need to: Reduce exposure to the risk factors, Vaccinate against Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and Human Papiloma virus (HPV), control occupational harzards, reduce exposure of skin to UV radiation, indoor tanning and skin bleaching, reduce exposure to medical diagnostic imaging, avoid multiple sex partners.

Early detection and treatment has proven to increase survival rates. A recent UK study found that for eight common cancers, bladder, bowel, breast, uterine, malignant melanoma, ovarian and testicular cancers – survival is three times higher when diagnosis is made early.

For early diagnosis to be more effective, screening is very important to identify individuals with abnormalities or in the pre cancerous state, who have not developed any symptom.

There are many types of screening which includes, HPV testing and Pap smear for cervical cancer, self-breast examination (SBE) and Mammography for breast cancer.

Others are digital rectal examination (DRE), measurement of prostate specific antigen in the blood, self-testicular examination (STE), colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, Skin Examination and many others. Some of these screening exercises can be carried out within the confines of our home.

So, in the spirit of participating with the 2019 -2021 theme for cancer campaign ‘I AM AND I WILL’, I implore everyone to march forward and say NO to any form of cancer by imbibing a healthy lifestyle, preventing exposure to risks, get vaccinated and involve in screening exercises that has been made available in the hospitals and by some NGOS and well meaning philanthropists in the fight to control this disease.

Please don’t say it’s not my portion because it’s nobody’s portion. Encourage your family members to do same and this marauding beast will eventually be curbed.

I am supporting a cancer free society and will continue to advocate for it vigorously. After losing a colleague to breast cancer, it dawned on me that our society plays down on the cancer scourge. 

Obi Lois Amarachukwu wrote via tasielois360@gmail.com.

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