The Basics of Cancer

What is cancer?

Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases characterized by the growth and spread of abnormal cells beyond their usual boundaries that can then invade adjoining parts of the body and/or spread to other organs. Cancer arises from the transformation of normal cells into tumour cells in a multistage process that generally progresses from a pre-cancerous lesion to a malignant tumour.

What are the risk factors for cancer?

The risk factors for cancer can be broadly categorized into four types namely

 1) behavioural risk factors that include tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity;

2) biological risk factors that include overweight, obesity, age, sex of the individual;

3) environmental risk factors include exposure to environmental carcinogens such as chemicals agents e.g. certain viruses(Hepatitis B & C, HPV, EBV, HIV), bacteria and parasites; and

4) genetic risk factors.

Globally, 5-10% of all cancers are attributed to genetic defects and 90-95% to environmental and lifestyle factors such as cigarette smoking, diet, alcohol and physical inactivity. Additionally, of all cancer-related deaths, almost 25–30% are due to tobacco, 30–35% are linked to diet, about 15–20% are due to infections, and the remaining percentage are due to other factors like radiation, stress, physical activity, environmental pollutants.

Is cancer preventable?

Prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer. Current evidence indicates that between 30% and 50% of cancer deaths could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors;

I)  Reduce Use of Tobacco / Tobacco Related Products and Exposure to By-Products

2) Reduce alcohol consumption.

3) Reduce risk posed by unhealthy diets and physical inactivity (exercises).

4) Immunization from infectious agents e.g Human Papilloma Virus

5) periodic screening for early diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

6) Minimizing exposure of industrial and nuclear toxic agents. Individuals exposed while accomplishing their occupational duties should be regularly screened.

Caren Nenooh

Author Caren Nenooh

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