This World Cancer Day on February 4th, a global initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), aims to raise global awareness of this deadly disease and is working towards preventing cancer deaths by contributing for extensive cancer research. Since its inception in 2000, this day has grown into a positive movement. So, let's look at what cancer is all about.
Cancer is a malignant growth as a result of the uncontrolled division of cells anywhere in the body. Generally, the cells in the body divide in order to replace the dead cells. But in this case, the old cells survive and continuously divide, forming abnormal lumps (tumors) in different parts of the body. It is a disease that can infect other parts of the body. There are more than a hundred types of cancers that affect the world population today, but few are common occurrences. The most common cancers are in women for the breast, bowel, lung and cervix. Lung cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and stomach cancer are common amongst men.
A tumor can be either benign which does not spread and can be easily removed or malignant which spread to neighboring tissues and organs through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Only malignant tumors are cancerous. Doctors have identified four types of cancer on the basis of where it originates.
How is Cancer caused?
Cancer is caused by accumulated damage to the genes. Genes are units of DNA that control the development of one or more traits of a person. They are damaged by exposure to cancer causing substances (carcinogens). However, it should be noted that there is no single cause of cancer in majority of the cases. Cancer risk factors have been identified to be biological (age, inherited genetic defects, gender), environmental (exposure to UV rays, radon and fine particulate matter), occupational hazards (exposure to carcinogenic chemicals) or lifestyle-related (smoking, drinking, etc).
Unfortunately, cancer is difficult to diagnose as it produces no symptoms initially. Symptoms appear as the tumor develops. Very few symptoms are specific as the patient's condition can be confused with a number of other diseases. As a result, it is considered a "great imitator." Therefore, the diagnosis begins when one visits the doctor about an unusual symptom. The doctor determines the cause by referring to the patients medical history, symptoms and test results. Sometimes, the doctor finds cancer after a medical test for another health issue. A definite diagnosis is made by biopsy (the removal of a small amount of tissue for further study).
Now that we know about the cause and types of cancer, let us look at the ways we can prevent it. The good news is that about 30-50% of cancer cases are preventable according to WHO. The following points should be taken into consideration:
Every year, there are umpteen numbers of deaths related to cancer. The reason behind this is the lack of awareness of this disease and ways to prevent it.
The World Cancer Day theme for 2020 is "I Am and I Will." This year, let us all be committed to being aware of the causes and make the necessary changes to our lifestyle to remain healthy.
With Inputs from
Dr. Vighnesh Y, M.D (Internal Medicine)
Consultant Physician, CallHealth