Cancer has a major impact on society and is one of the leading causes of death globally. It is considered a genetic disease developing with a mutation in the genes that can either occur because it is inherited from parents or can also rise during an individual’s lifetime as the result of damage to DNA. The three main types of genes affected are proto-oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes and DNA repair genes which contribute to the development of cancer. The proto-oncogenes are involved in the normal process of cell growth and when it becomes affected, they become cancer-causing genes allowing for the abnormal growth of cells. The tumor suppressor genes are involved in controlling the cell growth and division and when they are altered, the cells grow in an uncontrolled manner. The DNA repair genes are responsible for fixing the damaged DNA and any mutations in these genes could result in additional mutations in other genes thus causing the cells to become cancerous.
In 2012 alone, an estimated 14.1 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths occurred worldwide. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2018, 1,735,350 new cases of cancer was estimated to be diagnosed in the United States. In 2017, an estimated 15,270 children and adolescents aged 0 to 19 were diagnosed with cancer. However, the most common type of cancer is breast cancer with an estimated 268,670 new cases expected in the United States in 2018. This is followed by lung cancer, prostate cancer and colorectal cancer.
The World Cancer day celebrated each year on the 4th February is an initiative where the world can unite together to fight against the global cancer epidemic. The world cancer day hopes to save the lives of people each year by raising awareness, to create a long-lasting impact, inspire change, providing education about cancer and encouraging individuals to take action against this disease. Communities around the world will also be conducting seminars, public information campaigns and events to educate people and raise awareness on how to fight this cancer with screening and early detection, by quitting smoking and through healthy eating.
How to Detect Cancer?
There are several types of cancers and accordingly, the symptoms also vary based on the location of the disease. However, some of the key symptoms that could indicate cancer include;
- Persistent coughing or difficulty breathing
- Unexplained or unintentional weight loss over a short period of time
- Extreme fatigue and severe lack of energy which will also be accompanied by other symptoms
- Feeling less hungry for a prolonged period of time
- Persistent heartburn or indigestion
- A sore wound or mouth ulcer that won’t heal
- Very heavy, drenching night sweats
- Problems with urinating such as being unable to go, urinating more frequently or pain with urination
- Changes to bowel movements such as constipation, diarrhea or the presence of blood in the stool
- Unusual painless lumps that increase in size
Not all Tissue Changes are Cancer
Not all types of changes in the tissue are considered cancer although certain types of changes can develop into cancer if not promptly treated. Examples of tissues changes not considered cancer but are monitored include;
- Hyperplasia: This occurs when cells divide faster than normal and extra cells proliferate. It can occur because of a number of reasons such as chronic irritation and the cells look normal under a microscope.
- Dysplasia: This is a more serious condition where the cells look abnormal and with evidence of changes in how the tissue is organized with a greater chance of cancer developing. Certain types of dysplasia need to be monitored for changes or treatment may be required. For example, one of the more serious condition is known as carcinoma in situ which is generally not considered cancer as the abnormal cells cannot spread beyond the site of origination, however, as it has the potential to become cancer, it is usually treated.
What are effective cancer screening tests?
The goal of cancer screening tests is to detect cancer early even before it causes any symptoms, so it may be easier to successfully treat. Some of the effective screening tests include;
- Colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy and stool tests: This not only identifies colorectal cancer early but can also help in the prevention of the disease in the first place by detecting the colon growths (polyps) and removing them even before it turns into cancer. It is recommended that high-risk individuals at ages 50 through 75 should have the screening.
- Mammography: This can help reduce the deaths among women aged 40 to 74, particularly those over the age of 50.
- PAP test and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) testing: Both these tests can be done either alone or in a combination for the early detection of cervical cancer by identifying the abnormal cells even before it becomes cancer. The recommended age for screening is age 21 ending in age 65.
- Low-Dose Helical Computed Tomography: This test has shown to reduce the rate of lung cancer deaths particularly among heavy smokers aged 55 to 74.
- CA-125 test: This blood test is done together with transvaginal ultrasound particularly among high-risk women and is used to detect early ovarian cancer.
How can individuals help themselves and others?
- Choosing good lifestyle habits such as avoiding tobacco products, eating a healthy diet, avoiding long exposure to sun, limiting alcohol and not living a sedentary life.
- Understand the signs and symptoms of cancer as early detection can often make it easier to treat.
- Join support groups and share stories about own cancer experiences to positively help others with cancer.
- Talk with government leaders about resources and to help provide a better quality of life for those who are both patients and survivors.
- Help raise awareness and educate people about the connection between the risk of cancer and certain lifestyle behavior such as smoking.
- Encourage workplaces, institutes and schools to accommodate physical activity and no smoking policies to help enable people to have a healthy lifestyle habits.