World Cancer Day: Battling the blighting disease

World Cancer Day: Battling the blighting disease

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World Cancer Day 2019: World Cancer Day is an international day, which is marked on 4th February to increase awareness of cancer, and to encourage its prevention, early detection and treatment. Every year the theme has its own theme.

This year, the Union for International Cancer Control, which organizes World Cancer Day, is launching a new 3-year campaign under the name of : “I Am and I Will.”  It calls for a personal commitment to help reduce the global burden of cancer.

The estimated number of deaths due to cancer in 2018 was 9.5 million, which amounts to a whopping 26,000 deaths a day. This number is expected to increase as environmental stresses increase, air quality worsens, lifestyles and eating habits too!

World Cancer Day is being observed across the globe, on Monday (today) to create awareness and educate people about this deadly disease and how to fight it through screening and early detection.

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases characterized by the growth of abnormal cells beyond their usual boundaries that can then invade adjoining parts of the body and/or spread to other organs.

Other common terms used are malignant tumours and neoplasms. Cancer can affect almost any part of the body and has many anatomic and molecular subtypes that each requires specific management strategies.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and is estimated to account for 9.6 million deaths in 2018.

Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer are the most common types of cancer in men, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervix and thyroid cancer are the most common among women.

Tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, infections, environmental pollution, radiation are said to the be some of the major main causes of cancer.

Substances that induce free radical damage and promote cancerous cells are called carcinogens. Carcinogens can be different agents like:

  • Physical carcinogens (ultraviolet and ionizing radiations)
  • Biological carcinogens (certain bacteria, viruses and parasites)
  • Chemical carcinogens (synthetic products created by industry, components of smoke, pesticide residues, chemicals used in the food industry etc).

Apart from the above, there are some factors which increase cancer risk, these include:

  • increasing age
  • stressful lifestyle associated with poor nutritional status owing to low fruit & vegetable intake
  • use of tobacco, alcohol
  • chronic infections
  • being overweight too increases the risk of breast, oesophageal, colorectal, ovarian and endometrial cancer.

Common warning signs and symptoms of cancer

Here are a few common signs and symptoms of cancer that every person needs to look out for:

  1. Weight loss – According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), many people unexpectedly slim down prior to their diagnosis, although weight loss can be caused by certain health conditions such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes.
  2. Blood loss – Certain cancers such as colon cancer can cause unusual rectal bleeding (or blood in the stool). Similarly, blood in the urine may be a symptom of prostate or bladder cancer.
  3. Loss of appetite – Appetite loss even when you do not have any signs of other illness could be a sign of cancer.
  4. Changes in digestion – Persistent indigestion or difficulty swallowing, or pain after eating can be a symptom of certain cancers. For instance, a person with stomach cancer may experience nausea, vomiting, indigestion, bloating, etc.
  5. Fever – Although fever is rarely an early sign of cancer, it can be an indication of blood cancer, including leukemia or lymphoma. Usually, people who have cancer will often have a fever as a symptom.
  6. Lumps – A lump can, in rare cases, mean cancer, but an unexplained lump, bump or swelling can be a sign of a more serious issue beneath the skin. As per Cleveland Clinic, cancerous lumps that can be felt from the outside of your body can appear in the breast, testicle, or neck, but also in the arms and legs.
  7. Pain and fatigue – Unexplained fatigue is actually one of the most common symptoms of cancer. Tiredness that doesn’t seem to go away despite adequate sleep could be a sign of an underlying health condition. Also, cancer that’s spread, or metastasized, can cause pain, says an article in Healthline. For example, back pain could be present in certain cancers – such as colon cancer, ovary cancer, prostate cancer.

Other possible symptoms of cancer include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, night sweats, etc. It may be noted that certain cancers such as pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer may not show symptoms until the cancer is progressed to an advanced stage.

Everyone has the capacity to address the cancer burden. Detecting and treating the disease early is one of the best ways to prevent or beat cancer. Although cancer can develop without warning sometimes, the majority of cases have warning signs. Truth is, the earlier you detect the possible signs of cancer, the better the chances of survival.

With the advances made in medical technology today, many cancers that were once considered a ‘death sentence’ can now be treated effectively. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide – an estimated 9.6 million people died from cancer in 2018. World Cancer Day, celebrated on February 4 each year, is an opportunity to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.

Foods which can increase risk of cancers of different types include:

Highly salted foods: Regular consumption of highly salted foods like cured meats, salted fish etc can lead to stomach cancer by damaging the stomach lining and causing inflammation. Always opt for fresh and local produce.

Processed & smoked meats: Processed meats including ham, bacon, sausages and salami can increase the risk of bowel, stomach and pancreatic cancer. When smoked foods are cooked at high temperatures, the nitrates present in them (that have been added to prolong shelf life) convert into the more dangerous nitrites.

Processed and packaged foods contain high amounts of trans and saturated fats.
Photo Credit: iStock

Charred meats: When red meat and processed meats are grilled to a high temperature and charred, it produces DNA damaging heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. So, cook on medium heat, flipping at intervals; baking at moderate temperature and broiling are also safe cooking methods.

Microwavable popcorn: The bag of microwavable popcorn is lined with perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA) which is a likely carcinogen. The corn kernels are genetically modified and the fumes released from the artificial butter contain diacetyl and are toxic to humans. So, make your popcorn the traditional way.

Hydrogenated fats: Change the shape of cellular membranes and promote the growth of abnormal cells, these are definitely very harmful. These should be replaced with a variety of healthier fats & oils like desi ghee, coconut oil, mustard oil, groundnut oil etc used in moderation.

Sodas: Sodas are a deadly concoction of harmful colors, preservatives loaded with tons of sugar and hidden sugars. So, remain loyal to the good, old lemon water or lemon soda; adding a little bit of sugar is not harmful. What is harmful is the hidden sugar added by the manufacturers in processed and packaged foods.

Packaged foods containing hidden sugars: Hidden sugars like high fructose corn syrup are one of the major cancer-causing foods which leads to spikes in serum insulin and also feeds cancer cells. All sources of hidden sugars like bakeries, confectioneries, biscuits, ready to eat breakfast cereals, energy bars and the so-called health drinks etc should be avoided.

Artificial sweeteners: Switching to artificial sweeteners to save some calories is not a wise decision either. Several studies have shown a link between artificial sweeteners and cancer risk in lab studies.

Canned foods: The lining of most cans contain bisphenol A (BPA) which is known to increase cancer risk. Many plastic packaging also contain BPA. Of canned goods, tomatoes and its products are the worst because their acidity causes more BPA to leach into the food.

Piping hot foods: These have been associated with a greater risk of oesophageal cancer. Extremely hot foods should be avoided.

Alcohol: Several studies have established the link between alcohol intake and cancer though the exact mechanism is not understood. It could be through promoting weight gain. Moderation in consumption is critical to minimize its damaging effects.

Pesticide residues in foods have adverse health effects and may increase the risk of cancers. One simple way to eliminate some pesticide residue is to dip your fruits, vegetable and fresh produce in a vessel containing 4 parts water and 1-part vinegar for about 20 minutes and then rinse with clean water.

Coping with the ‘C’

There are some food items that help in preventing the growth of cancer cells. These include turmeric, garlic, citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, purple-red fruits & veggies, high-fibre whole grains, nuts & seeds, beans, leafy veggies etc. Regular consumption of these, abstinence from smoking, alcohol and an overall healthy diet and lifestyle can help reduce cancer risk.

Many of these deaths can be avoided with increased governmental support and funding for prevention, detection and treatment programmes. Unless urgent action is taken to raise awareness about cancer and develop practical strategies to address the disease, millions of people will continue to die.

Sadly, the greatest increase in cancer is projected to hit low- and middle-income countries, those least equipped to cope with the social and economic impact of the disease.

There is an urgent need for action to raise awareness of the disease and to develop practical strategies to reduce the burden of cancer. World Cancer Day is the perfect opportunity to spread the word and create a global awareness of the disease in international media and global health and development programmes.

Cancer knows no borders. In 2018, one out of six people worldwide died from cancer – that’s more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.  World Cancer Day raises awareness of cancer globally and encourages prevention, detection, and treatment.

Join the #WorldCancerDay discussion to help the American Cancer Society lead the fight for a world without cancer. Together we can continue to transform cancer from deadly to treatable and from treatable to preventable.

World Cancer Day aims to save millions of preventable deaths each year by raising awareness and education about cancer, and pressing governments and individuals across the world to take action against the disease.

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