The chance of being diagnosed with some sort of cancer increases as age advances. In fact, the global burden of cancer appears to be on an exponential path. Every day, more people get diagnosed with cancer.
Others continue to be on several treatment modalities in attempts to cure or control their cancer. Unfortunately, deaths from cancer also continue to rise, despite medical advances in treatment approaches.
The main causes of cancer are fairly well understood. You may be surprised to know that a recent publication has brought to light the fact that nearly half of all cancer deaths are linked to preventable risk factors. You read that right, yes, cancer can be prevented in many cases.
The referenced publication is a global report that indicates the highest contributors to cancer are smoking, alcohol and high body mass index (BMI). Of concern, obesity (high BMI) has contributed the highest to cancer deaths in the last decade. This is more so in lower-income countries.
Why is this important? The data brings to prominence that a substantial proportion of cancer is preventable. This is both at a national health policy level, and crucially at an individual level as well.
It is obvious that adjusting your lifestyle can limit the risks of getting cancer. Don’t smoke, but if you already do, stop it (or seek appropriate help to help you stop). It’s best not to drink alcohol at all. But if you do, take steps to limit how much you drink. How to control your weight is obvious. Eat right, and keep yourself physically active.
But there are other strategies as well for preventing cancer. You probably have heard about various cancer screening tests. Easy examples are screening for cervical cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.
The aim is usually to detect very early stages of cancer and act pre-emptively. There are also vaccines that prevent some infections that can eventually lead to cancer. The HPV vaccines, applicable to adolescents (and even those older), can prevent cancers of the cervix and the back passage. Still other vaccines are available against viral conditions like Hepatitis B, which can predispose one to cancer of the liver.
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So there you are. You have more than one strategy to guard yourself against cancer. It doesn’t at all mean that you will never get afflicted. Maintain a heightened sense of health awareness. If you notice symptoms that aren’t easy to explain, or are persistent, getting a thorough check sooner than later should be your default.
An eventual cancer diagnosis, paired with early initiation of treatment, and with the right specialists, gives you the best of chances.
Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynaecologist and Fertility Specialist.