(CMR) Did you know that 10 million people die each year from cancer? According to worldcancerday.org, that’s more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. By 2030, experts project cancer deaths to rise to 13 million.
Cancer is a disease that occurs when changes in a group of normal cells within the body lead to uncontrolled, abnormal growth forming a lump called a tumor; this is true of all cancers except leukemia (cancer of the blood). If left untreated, tumors can grow and spread into the surrounding normal tissue or to other parts of the body via the bloodstream and lymphatic systems and can affect the digestive, nervous and circulatory systems or release hormones that may affect body function.
According to worldcancer.org, at least one third of common cancers are preventable. Each year, millions of lives could be saved by implementing resource appropriate strategies for prevention, early detection, and treatment. However, 70% of cancer deaths occur in low-to-middle income countries. The total annual economic cost of cancer is estimated at US$1.16 trillion.
No one expects to get cancer, and people often do all they can not to get the deadly disease. But do we have control over the factors? Do we know the factors? Worldcancerday.org lists the following factors.
Modifiable risk factors include:
Alcohol – The evidence that all types of alcoholic drinks cause several cancers is now stronger than ever before. Alcohol can increase the risk of six types of cancers, including bowel (colorectal), breast, mouth, pharynx and larynx (mouth and throat), oesophageal, liver and stomach. The evidence suggests that, in general, the more alcohol drinks people consume, the higher the risk of many cancers, and that even moderate alcohol intake increases the risk of cancer.
Being overweight or obese – excess weight has been linked to an increased risk of developing 12 different cancers, including bowel and pancreatic cancers. In general, greater weight gain, particularly as adults, is associated with greater cancer risks.
Diet and nutrition – Experts suggest that diets and nutritional intake, particularly diets high in red meats, processed meats, salted foods and low in fruits and vegetables have an impact on cancer risks, particularly colorectum, nasopharynx and stomach.
Physical activity – Regular physical activity not only helps to reduce excess body fat and the cancer risks associated with this, but being physically active can help to reduce the risks of developing colon, breast and endometrial cancers.
Tobacco – Tobacco smoke contains at least 80 different cancer-causing substances (carcinogenic agents). When smoke is inhaled, the chemicals enter the lungs, pass into the bloodstream, and are transported throughout the body. This is why smoking or chewing tobacco not only causes lung and mouth cancers but is also related to many other cancers. Currently, tobacco use is responsible for around 22% of cancer deaths.
Ionizing radiation – Manmade radiation sources can cause cancer and are a risk for workers. These include radon, x-rays, gamma rays, and other forms of high-energy radiation. Prolonged and unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiations from the sun, sunlamps and tanning beds can also lead to melanoma and skin malignancies.
Workplace hazards – Some people risk being exposed to a cancer-causing substance because of their work. For example, workers in the chemical dye industry have been found to have a higher incidence than normal of bladder cancer. Asbestos is a well-known workplace cause of cancer – particularly a cancer called mesothelioma, which most commonly affects the covering of the lungs.
Infection – Infectious agents are responsible for around 2.2 million cancer deaths annually. This does not mean that these cancers can be caught like an infection; rather, the virus can cause changes in cells that make them more likely to become cancerous. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections cause around 70% of cervical cancers. In contrast, liver cancer and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma can be caused by the Hepatitis B and C virus, and lymphomas are linked to the Epstein-Barr virus.
Non-modifiable risk factors include:
Age – Many types of cancer become more prevalent with age. The longer people live, the more exposure to carcinogens, and the more time there is for genetic changes or mutations to occur within their cells.
Cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) – are substances that change how a cell behaves, increasing the chances of developing cancer.
Genetics – Unfortunately, some people are born with a genetically inherited high risk for a specific cancer (‘genetic predisposition). This does not mean developing cancer is guaranteed, but a genetic predisposition makes the disease more likely.
For example, women that carry the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 breast cancer genes have a higher predisposition to developing this form of cancer than women with a normal breast cancer risk. However, less than 5% of all breast cancer is known to be due to genes.
The immune system – People who have weakened immune systems are more at risk of developing some types of cancer. This includes people who have had organ transplants and take drugs to suppress their immune systems to stop organ rejection, plus people who have HIV or AIDS, or other medical conditions which reduce their immunity to disease.
Signs and symptoms of cancer
With so many different types of cancers, the symptoms vary and depend on where the disease is located. However, there are some key signs and symptoms to look out for, including:
Unusual lumps or swelling – cancerous lumps are often painless and may increase in size as the cancer progresses
Coughing, breathlessness or difficulty swallowing – be aware of persistent coughing episodes, breathlessness or difficulty swallowing.
Changes in bowel habit – such as constipation and diarrhea and/or blood found in the stools
Unexpected bleeding – includes bleeding from the vagina, anal passage, or blood found in stools, urine, or coughing.
Unexplained weight loss – a large amount of unexplained and unintentional weight loss over a short period of time (a couple of months)
Fatigue – which shows itself as extreme tiredness and a severe lack of energy. If fatigue is due to cancer, individuals normally also have other symptoms.
Pain or ache – includes unexplained or ongoing pain or pain that comes and goes.
New mole or changes to a mole – look for changes in size, shape, or color and if it becomes crusty or bleeds or oozes.
Complications with urinating – include needing to urinate urgently, more frequently, being unable to go when needed, or experiencing pain while urinating.
Unusual breast changes – look for changes in size, shape, or feel, skin changes and pain.
Appetite loss – feeling less hungry than usual for a prolonged period of time.
A sore or ulcer that won’t heal – including a spot, sore wound, or mouth ulcer
Heartburn or indigestion – persistent or painful heartburn or indigestion
Heavy night sweats – be aware of very heavy, drenching night sweats