12th February, 2015
By Bilikis Bakare
Cancer, also known as malignant neoplasm and the most feared word and disease in the world, is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. It can also affect nearby parts of the body and more distant parts through the lymphatic system or the blood stream. There are over 200 different types of cancer that affect humans. The disease has been around as long as mankind but only in the second half of the 20th century did the number of cancer cases exploded. In 2007, cancer caused about 13% of all human deaths worldwide (7.9 million). The global burden of cancer is set to double by 2020 and almost triple by 2030 when one out of every two persons is expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their life time.
Essentially, cancers occur as a result of excessive amount of toxin and pollutants people are exposed to, obesity, tobacco use, lack of physical activity, high stress lifestyles that zap the immune system, poor quality junk food that are full of pesticides, irradiated and genetically modified. Other causes include electro-magnetic lights and everything we were not exposed to 200 years ago. Findings have shown that tobacco use is the most important risk factor for cancer, causing about 70% of global lung cancer deaths and 20% of global cancer deaths. All these weaken the immune system and change the body’s internal environment to one that promotes cancer growth. While cancer can affect people of all ages, and a few types of cancer are more common in children, the risk of developing cancer generally increases with age.
Malignant neoplasm or cancer is a group of different diseases involving unregulated cell growth which often make it to imitate other diseases. Often times, cancer patients have been treated for other diseases for so long leading to the metastases of the disease which eventually kills the patient. Recently, former Super Eagles goal keeper Agbonavbare died of cancer after a protracted struggle, while his wife had earlier died of the disease after gulping all their life savings.
It can affect anybody and all the organs of the body. The most frequently diagnosed cancer in men aside from skin cancer is prostate cancer, while breast cancer remains the most frequently diagnosed type of cancer in women. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women. If it affects the lungs, It manifests in form of cough or pneumonia, for oesophageal cancer, it narrows the oesophagus, causing painful swallowing anaemia or rectal bleeding. But perhaps the most predominant forms of cancer in Nigeria are those affecting the breast and the cervix also known as cervical cancer.
The incidence of breast cancer in Nigeria is increasing just like in other developing countries and those advanced countries that used to have a low incidence. Several factors are responsible for this increasing incidence, but the most important are the empowerment of women which is increasing their ability to make independent decisions about their health care, such as the ability to choose when to start having children and the number to have and westernization of diet.
It has been observed that women with later age at onset of first pregnancies and a higher mean number of children have short term risks of developing cancer due to the stimulatory effects of pregnancy on the epithelial tissues of the breast. The protective effect of pregnancy is seen decades after the pregnancy, often after the age of forty years and in a country with low life expectancy, the women would have developed the disease before the pro-carcinogenic effect of pregnancy can be felt.
On the other hand, cervical cancer, one of the most common types of cancer in women starts in the cells on the surface of the cervix usually very slowly. There are two types of cells on the cervix’s surface called the squamous and columnar cells, but usually most cervical cancers are from squamous cells. It starts as a precancerous condition called dysplasia which can only be detected through a diagnostic process called Pap smear. It usually takes years for cancerous changes to turn into cervical cancer. Most women diagnosed with this condition have not had regular pap smears or they have not followed up on abnormal test results. Dysplasia is most often seen in women ages 25-35, although it can develop at any age.
Cervical dysplasia is caused by the human papilloma virus [HPV], spread through sexual intercourse and those at the risk of developing the condition include women having sex before the age of 18, giving birth before age 16, having multiple sexual partners, smokers and using medication that suppresses the immune system.
Generally, initial swelling in cancer is usually painless although localized pain may occur in advanced cancer. Other symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, unexplained anaemia, fever of unknown origin. In diagnosing cancer, a biopsy i.e. taking a specimen of the lump or swelling for examination is considered essential for the proper identification of the disease. Occasionally, a metastatic lump or pathological lymph node is found (in the neck) for which primary tumour cannot be found.
Cancer is a curable disease that should not be allowed to terminate life, but it should be detected on time. Chemotherapy (drugs) and radiotherapy are used as a first line radical therapy in a number of malignancies where disease is clearly incurable aiming at improving the quality of and prolonging life. Surgeries are used to remove tumours entirely in situations where there are some degrees of certainties that the tumours can in fact be removed.
Chemotherapy works by killing all cells throughout the body that multiply and divide rapidly which include cancer cells and other rapidly multiplying and dividing cells that the body needs. These include bone marrow which produces blood, digestive and reproductive system, and hair follicles etc. leading to anaemia, loss of weight and hair loss.
The world observed “The World Cancer Day” on February 4, 2015. Everyone has to be involved in the campaign for the reduction of the cancer epidemic all over the world. The attention should shift towards exploring alternative means of tackling the disease. Herbal remedies should be exploited to combat the disease.
In essence, cancer patients do not have to avoid chemotherapy or radiotherapy to benefit from natural products and supplements. Nutritional supplements are quite useful when used in conjunction with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. The supplements work to support the body so that radiation and chemotherapy will actually work better resulting in stronger immune system which prevents cancer from developing again. Leading a sedentary life and exposure to toxins in form of environmental pollutions should be avoided.
The human life is too precious to be left at the mercy of such a deadly disease as cancer. Therefore, government at all levels in our country should provide adequate equipment for diagnosing cancer, provide enlightenment as well as the required funds necessary for this purpose. When the right actions are taken, even aggressive, tough cancer can be defeated.
•Bakare wrote from Ikeja