Cancer remains one of the greatest enemies to our health and wellbeing in the 21st
century. At the current rate, it will soon surpass cardiovascular disease as the number one cause of death. Almost none of us are untouched by cancer; we probably all know at least someone who has faced cancer head-on or has had a near miss. At the World Summit Against Cancer held at Paris in the year 2000, national representatives from all over the world declared the 4th of February to be World Cancer Day.
The aim of World Cancer Day is to raise awareness and understanding all aspects of cancer, and to remind governments all over the world of this issue.
How near is cancer?
Since 1990, statistics have shown that there has been 8.1 million new cases year on year. By 2018, 18.1 million new cancer patients were appearing annually. The three most common forms of cancer are lung cancer, breast cancer, and bowel cancer, respectively.
Unless the world begins to address this issue more seriously, it is estimated that by the year 2030 there will be 13.1 million deaths from cancer annually.
Nevertheless, over 40% of the cancers that are currently affecting people are curable, and the number of survivors is also steadily rising.
This is most likely a result of the push to study and understand cancer over the past decade, giving rise to innovations in all aspects of the fight against cancer. The fields of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation have all seen major advances which can give today’s patients a high degree of confidence that their cancer will be treatable.
Step 1: Prevention is the best medicine
In addition to measures that you can take such as taking good care of your health and eating right, the medical community is also doing their part in erecting defenses against cancer. We now have the vaccine against cervical cancer (HPV vaccine) which can be administered in one go (the number of shots vary according to the age of the patient) for patients aged 9 - 44 for a lifetime of protection.
The vaccine guards against the virus which cause cervical cancer, and protects against genital warts and anal cancer in the males to boot.
Our ever-expanding knowledge continues to help us give cancer a wide berth. For example, knowing that lung cancer is caused by cigarette smoking is a good reason to quit smoking and avoid areas high air pollution. This knowledge might also guide you to wear a mask to protect from pollution in some instances, or to wear protection against harmful solar rays to avoid skin cancer.
Step 2: Early Warning is the Key to Success
The complexities of cancer can mean that cancer may occur even if we take the best care of our health. The chances of cancer occurring tend to increase as we age. But cancer is much like many other diseases in that the sooner it is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. Easy and effective screening methods have been devised and are now in widespread usage:
- The mammogram is the gold standard of breast cancer screening. It is recommended that women aged 40 years and above (or younger, if there is a history of cancer in the family) should get a mammogram every 1-2 years.
- Lung x-rays--already a fixture of your annual routine health check-up--is a way to screen for lung cancer, as well as tuberculosis.
- A Pap smear to screen against cervical cancer, plus the HPV DNA test to detect the cancer-causing virus. Women aged 30 – 65 should take this test every five years.
- Colonoscopies can screen for colon and rectal cancer. It is recommended for men and women aged 45 and above.
- Measuring PSA levels through blood tests screens for prostate cancer. It is recommended for men aged 50 onwards.
Furthermore, it pays to be vigilant and observant about your own body. If you notice any abnormalities, such as an unusual growth, an abnormally large wart or spot, or a noticeable change in your bowel movements, it is recommended that you see a physician.
Step 3: Wide horizons for treatment
Even though the number of cancer patients increases every year, the number of survivors is also gaining annually. This is largely due to the improved accuracy of diagnosis and the superior range of treatment options available, compared with the past. It is now quite feasible to successfully nip cancer in the bud almost immediately after an early diagnosis. To illustrate, breast cancer has decreased by a third over the past 20 years
(from 29.4 cases per 100,000 women in 1996 to 20 cases per 100,000 women in 2016). Metastatic lung cancer, which used to have a five-year survival rate of less than 5% now sees 15-20% of patients surviving thanks to immune checkpoint therapy.
The side effects of chemotherapy used to be a source of much fear and anxiety, as they can drastically affect the quality of life for patients. But today, the new formulations have milder side effects. The increasing use targeted therapy also means that only the cancer cells themselves will be affected, with higher effectiveness and markedly decreased side effects. Targeted therapy
is effective even against the most complex forms of cancer, such as prostate cancer
or sarcoma cancer.
Cancer threatens everyone equally, no matter where in the world you are, how wealthy or poor you are, whether you are a high-flying executive or a refugee. World Cancer Day is a symbol to remind us all that the light at the end of the tunnel can be reached equally by all through the raising awareness and staying vigilant, and being prompt with treatment when cancer is detected. No matter who you are, the motto for World Cancer Day, “I am and I will” is part of our collective journey towards a cancer free world.
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