The world unites against cancer, killer of more than 9m people in 2018

Gone are the days when you eat whatever you like, apply your cream of choice or see a minor growth on the body without getting the cancer scare. Each year, on February 4, the world marks World Cancer Day to raise awareness of what can be done in the fight against the global cancer epidemic.

Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body. They are also called malignant tumours and neoplasms because of their ability to create rapid abnormal cells that invade adjoining parts of the body and spread to other organs.

Presently, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally. It is responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Globally, about 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer.

In 2018 alone, approximately 18.1 million new cases were discovered, putting the global cancer burden on a strain. The most commonly diagnosed cancers among African men are prostate, accounting for 31 percent of all cancers, lung (15 percent), while colon and rectum accounted for 9 percent. Among African women, the most common cancers are breast (32 percent of all cancers), lung (11 percent), colon and rectum (9 percent).

Cancer has been linked to obesity, sudden weight gain or weight loss, bad eating habits, stress and lack of exercise. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), between 30 percent to 50 percent of cancers can be prevented by avoiding risk causing factors and early detection.

Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors can actually cause cancer, while others may simply be more common in people who get cancer. Exposing the skin to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Old age is also a risk factor for cancer, but old age by itself does not cause cancer.

Understandably, our lifestyles require that we are always on the go. This lifestyle is also reflected in the way we prepare/eat our meals and in the things we consume. These days, people live on canned foods, fast foods that are already packaged and ready to eat. Scientists have proven that majority of these foods are low in antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage and if these antioxidants are low, the chances of getting cancer increases.

Tobacco use (including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco) is the single most important risk factor for cancer and is responsible for approximately 22 percent of cancer-related deaths globally.

Exercising is a good way of preventing cancer as it is said to lower risks of several cancers. People, especially those who increase their physical activity after menopause have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who do not. Lack of physical activity is linked to being overweight and excess weight causes the body to produce and circulate more estrogen and insulin, hormones that can stimulate cancer growth.

2019 marks the launch of the 3-year ‘I Am and I Will’ campaign, an empowering call-to-action urging for personal commitment and representing the power of individual action taken now to impact the future. The best way is by committing to a healthy living that goes beyond one day of not smoking, or one day of eating properly cooked food. Secondly, committing to regular check-up will aid in the fight against the global menace.