World Cancer Day 2010 - “Cancer Can Be Prevented Too”

At a time when Cancer still remains a feared and dreaded disease, our headline - “Cancer can be prevented too” may sound a bit incredible, and clichéd, more so as cancer still remains theleading cause of death worldwide. For this reason, it has been a constant endeavor by the WHO and the International Union against Cancer to address ways to reduce the burden of cancer, and the (4th of February) each year is dedicated as World Cancer Day. The theme for 2010 looks at a key facet - Prevention of Cancer.

The WHO makes no qualms about the fact that in the absence of timely intervention, cancer can claim the lives of 84 million people worldwide between 2005 and 2015, with the low and middle-income countries bearing the brunt as compared to the industrialized ones. If that’s not all, the burden of cancer is estimated to double by 2020 and nearly triple by 2030. According to the forecasted figures for 2030, there are likely to be 20-26 million fresh cancer diagnoses and 13-17 million cancer related deaths. China, Russia, and India need to watch out and tackle the growing burden of cancer, attributed mainly to increase in use of tobacco, fatty diets, adoption of western habits, and demographic changes.

It is possible to reduce the risks of cancer and move closer to prevention of the disease.

Cancer can be prevented with the following steps:

• Banish Tobacco - Smoking or consuming tobacco in any form

• Adopt a healthy diet and regular exercise

• Reduce or completely avoid intake of alcohol

• Seek adequate protection against cancer-causing infections

Banish Tobacco and Cut Cancer Risk

The use of tobacco is linked with a number of different cancers including lung cancer. Tobacco also increases the risk of other types of cancers such as cancer of the pancreas, mouth, throat, cervix, and bladder. Tobacco also triggers other chronic respiratory diseases as well as cardiac disease.

Smoking accounts for 90% of lung cancer cases. A smoker carries a fourteen fold risk of dying due to cancer and a double risk of dying due to a heart attack.

Almost 4000 potentially toxic chemicals found in tobacco are inhaled into the system due to smoking. The chemicals found in tobacco lower the body’s immunity to fight infections. Further, tobacco gradually begins to harm the vital organs in the body, especially the heart and the lungs.

Giving up on this habit is loaded with benefits. The healing mechanism in the body kick starts into action within 20 minutes following the last puff. Smokers, who quit before they turn 50, carry a reduced risk of premature death as compared to those who continue.

Role of Diet and Exercise in Cancer Prevention

The role of diet and exercise in cancer prevention could not have been summed up better other than the expert Dennis Savaiano, dean of Purdue’s School of Consumer and Family Sciences and chairman of the Food and Nutrition Science Alliance, or FANSA.

He said, “Approximately one-third of cancer cases are related to smoking, one-third to poor diet and lack of exercise, and one-third to genetic or other factors. Most people are already aware of the detrimental effects of smoking, but the rate of obesity and poor diet is cause for alarm.”

Savaiano has left pointers on how we could change our diet to reduce the risk of cancer.

• Consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes

• Avoid food that is heavy on fat and/or sugar

• Limit the intake of alcohol or better completely abstain from it

• Ensure regular physical activity

“Many foods that are widely advertised tend to be high in calories and relatively low in nutrients, while few advertisements appear for less processed foods such as vegetables and fruits or whole grains and beans,” he added.

It is about time we tweak our advertisements to publicize right kinds of food and give the correct message about the relationship between diet and cancer.

Alcohol and Cancer Risk

The risk of cancer increases with alcohol consumption and the risk increases commensurately with increase in intake of alcohol. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in its “Report on Carcinogens” has for the first time listed alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen.

Scientists and researchers cannot overlook the strong link between even reasonable alcohol drinking and an enhanced risk of certain cancers, more so cancer of the liver and the breast. There is also evidence of cancers of the esophagus, pharynx, and mouth, and colorectal cancers with intake of alcohol.

Cancer Causing Infections

“Viruses are etiologically linked to approximately 20% of all malignancies worldwide.” (Human retroviruses: their role in cancer. WA Blattner. Proc Assoc Am Physicians 1999 Nov-Dec;111(6):563-572.)

Even though a great deal of medical research has gone in to understand causes of cancer, yet the part played by chronic infections in causing cancer needs more research.

The WHO has said that close to 23 percent of malignancies in developing countries have their triggers in infectious agents; in developed countries, 8 percent of all malignancies are caused by chronic infections, ostensibly some of the most common cancers have been caused by an infective agent. Vaccinations are the only way to prevent some of the cancers caused by infectious agents.

For instance, Helicobacter pylori are behind the onset of gastric cancer, the second leading reason for cancer death worldwide. Liver cancer, triggered by Hepatitis viruses, is the sixth important cause of cancer death worldwide.

Hepatitis is a disease that is caused due to inflammation of liver cells, leading to damage of the liver. The main cause behind Hepatitis is the ‘Hepatitis Virus’, although triggers in other forms exist such as -bacterial infections, intake of drugs, and excessive alcohol.

Viral hepatitis, as the name suggests is triggered by a virus that causes inflammation of liver cells. Many different viruses - Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E are behind the attack of viral hepatitis. Hepatitis B, C, and D can cause chronic hepatitis that can even last a lifetime. The dangerous part about these viruses is that in some cases it could lead to life threatening conditions such as liver cancer, liver failure and cirrhosis.

Hepatitis A is considered the mildest of the three forms and is usually without any long-term side effects. The vulnerability to Hepatitis A increases with frequent travel to international locations, sex with an infected person and exposure to regions where vaccinations are uncommon. Vaccination for children between 12 and 23 months is recommended as a good prevention measure.

Hepatitis B caused by the HBV virus is the most dangerous chronic liver infection in the world. Nearly 10% of Hepatitis B victims battle long-term liver infection. In many cases, Hepatitis B causes irreparable liver damage, leading to death. The Hepatitis B vaccine affords effective protection against the attack of the virus.

Infection caused by certain types of HPV is a significant cause of cervical cancer in women. Studies have also established a strong risk of oropharyngeal cancer from HPV infection which also plays a role in cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, and penis.

Two vaccines to prevent HPV infections: Gardasil® and Cervarix® have been approved by The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both vaccines have been found to tackle effectively the persistent infections with HPV types 16 and 18, which are behind the cause of 70 percent of cervical cancers.

February 03, 2010, Medindia

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