Ref: CHB/News Bulletin/001/2013

Cancer

Cancer can affect anyone – young and old, rich and poor, men and women – and presents a tremendous burden on patients, families and societies. Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 7.6 million deaths (around 13% of all deaths) in 2008 and by 2030 deaths from cancer worldwide are projected to continue to rise to over 13.1 million as calculated by the World Health Organization (WHO).

cancer_1We all know one person who has it, be it a relative, a neighbor, a friend, or a friends friend. So then; what is cancer? Are we misusing the term?

Our bodies are made of organs which are in turn are made of cells. A cell is the basic building block of a living organism. Normally a cell grows, divides into a new cell and dies by programmed cell death (apoptosis). This cycle continues. In Cancer something goes wrong along the way and this process goes haywire. This could be the result of damages or mutations in DNA sequences in genes. The cells divide rapidly and uncontrollably. This change in sequence can also cause the cell to forget to die. Some cells move to other tissues (parts of body) and hence they are called metastatic.

cancer_2The rapid uncontrolled growth of cells forms a lump or mass of cells known as tumor. If it moves throughout the body using the blood or lymph systems, interferes with function, release hormones or generate blood vessels of its own, it's known as being malignant. However if it stays in one spot, looks similar to the cells it originated from, demonstrates limited growth and doesn't cause much disturbance then its known as benign and is not dangerous.

Causes of cancer

cancer_3Cancer can be the result of a genetic predisposition that is inherited from family members. This accounts for 5-10% of the total cancer cases. It is possible to be born with certain genetic mutations or a fault in a gene that makes one statistically more likely to develop cancer later in life.

Carcinogens are a class of substances that are directly responsible for damaging DNA and promoting or aiding cancer. Tobacco, alcohol, asbestos, arsenic, radiation such as gamma and x-rays, the sun, and compounds in car exhaust fumes are all examples of carcinogens, and so is unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. Several viruses have also been linked to cancer such as: human papillomavirus (a cause of cervical cancer), hepatitis B and C (causes of liver cancer), and Epstein-Barr virus (a cause of some childhood cancers), Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) - and anything else that suppresses or weakens the immune system - inhibits the body's ability to fight infections and increases the chance of developing cancer.

Symptoms

Cancer symptoms are quite varied and depend on where the cancer is located, where it has spread, and how big the tumor is. Some cancers can be felt or seen through the skin - for example Skin cancer (melanoma) is often noted by a change in a wart or mole on the skin. Some oral cancers present with white patches inside the mouth or white spots on the tongue. Lung cancer can cause coughing, shortness of breath, or chest pain. Colon cancer often causes diarrhea, constipation, and blood in the stool.

Treatment

Treatment of cancer depends on the type of cancer, the stage of cancer (how much it has spread), age, health status, and additional personal characteristics. There is no single treatment for cancer, and patients often receive a combination of therapies and palliative care. Treatments usually fall into one of the following categories: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, or gene therapy.

cancer_4And now the good news: Cancer can be prevented to a certain extent. Cancers that are closely linked to certain behaviors are the easiest to prevent. For example, choosing not to smoke tobacco or drink alcohol significantly lower the risk of several types of cancer - most notably lung, throat, mouth, and liver cancer. Even if you are a current tobacco user, quitting can still greatly reduce your chances of getting cancer. Eating a healthy diet (Physicians recommend diets that are low in fat and rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains) and exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight too can reduce your risk of getting cancer. Also minimizing exposure to radiations and toxic chemicals significantly prevents mutation in the DNA.

Skin cancer can be prevented by staying in the shade, protecting yourself with a hat and shirt when in the sun, and using sunscreen. But be careful too little exposure to sunlight can reduce the essential vitamin D level in your body.

Certain vaccines have been associated with the prevention of some cancers for example vaccination for Human papillomavirus to guard against cervical cancer and Hepatitis B vaccine to prevent liver cancer.

Some cancer prevention is based on systematic screening in order to detect small irregularities or tumors as early as possible even if there are no clear symptoms present. Breast self-examination, mammograms, testicular self-examination, and Pap smears are common screening methods for various cancers.

Cancer Myths..Debunked!

A vast amount of information about cancer is available online and through other sources. Unfortunately, some of it can be misleading or inaccurate. Below you will find the truth behind some of the most common cancer myths and misconceptions.

MYTH: Cancer is contagious.

No cancer is contagious (capable of spreading from person to person through contact). However, some cancers are caused by viruses. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that increases the risk of developing cervical, anal, and some types of head and neck cancers. Other viruses, such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which are transmitted by infected intravenous needles and sexual activity, increase the risk of developing liver cancer.

MYTH: If you have a family history of cancer, you will get it too; there's nothing you can do about it.

Although having a family history of cancer increases your risk of developing the disease, it is not a definite prediction of your future health. In fact, an estimated 4 out of 10 cancers can be prevented by making simple lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, limiting alcoholic beverages, and avoiding tobacco products.

MYTH: Hair dyes and antiperspirants can cause cancer.

To date, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that these items increase the risk of developing cancer. Some studies have suggested that hair dyes used before 1980 could be linked to an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but the unsafe chemicals have since been removed from hair dye products.

MYTH: Positive thinking will cure cancer.

Although a positive attitude may improve your quality of life during cancer treatment, there is no scientific evidence that it can cure cancer.

MYTH: If you are diagnosed with cancer, you will probably die.

Cancer is not a death sentence. Advances in cancer detection and treatment have increased survival rates for most common types of cancer. In fact, more than 60% of people with cancer survive five years or more after their initial diagnosis.

MYTH: Cancer is always painful.

Although pain is one of the most common side effects of cancer and its treatment, up to 95% of cancer pain can be successfully treated with medications and other pain management techniques.

MYTH: Drug companies, the government, and the medical establishment are hiding a cure for cancer.

The medical community is not withholding a miracle treatment. The fact is, there will not be a single cure for cancer. Hundreds of types of cancer exist, and they respond differently to various types of treatment.

MYTH: Some people are too old for cancer treatment.

There is no age limit for cancer treatment. People with cancer should receive the treatment that is best suited to their condition, regardless of age. Many older patients respond as well to cancer treatments as younger patients.

MYTH: Cancer treatment is usually worse than the disease.

Although cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy are known to cause side effects that can be unpleasant and sometimes serious, recent advances have resulted in many chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments that are much better tolerated than in the past. As a result, symptoms like severe nausea and vomiting, hair loss, and tissue damage are much less common these days; however, managing side effects remains an important part of cancer care. This approach, called palliative or supportive care, can help a person at any stage of illness.

More people are alive today with cancer and enjoying a good quality of life than at any other time in human history. There are currently 28 million cancer survivors worldwide. This is encouraging news and is a tribute to the progress made by scientific research thanks to what we know how different cancers occur and grow. This in turn has led to the development of more effective drugs and treatments. Looking back over the last 20 years alone, the progress has been phenomenal.

cancer_5

Compiled by Neelam A Ismail

"Community's health – CHB's priority"

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