According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer there were an estimated 18.1 million new cancer cases, and 9.6 million cancer deaths in 2018. In both sexes combined, lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death closely followed by female breast cancer, then prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, stomach cancer, and liver cancer for mortality.
Lung cancer is the most frequent cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among males. Among females, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death. The most frequently diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death vary greatly across countries and within each country depending on the degree of economic development and associated social and life style factors.
Cure or Curse?
Most existing cancer drugs and treatments are poisons, designed to attack and hopefully kill cancer cells, or at least slow their growth. But most of these treatments attack not just cancer cells, but healthy cells, too. Thus, people taking the drugs often suffer horrible side effects on top of whatever havoc the cancer itself is already wreaking. They become thin and weak. They lose their hair and their color.
The next revolution in cancer therapy may have arrived. It’s called “molecularly targeted therapy.” The treatment consists of drugs designed at the molecular level of the cell to specifically attack and kill only the cancer cells of a specific type of cancer. And they are tailor-made to recognize specific molecules unique to specific cancers.
The model drug leading the way is Glivec, also known as STI571. It is active against a relatively rare form of leukemia – chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML – characterized by excessive overproduction of white blood cells. Doctors are extremely hopeful that the drug could provide a model for similar drugs to treat cancers affecting many thousands more people.
These molecular “designer” drugs are created working backward from a known abnormal molecule specific to a certain type of cancer. Once the molecule is identified, a drug can be designed that interferes with that molecule. So these drugs, by design, have a very limited spectrum of use. Eventually, one would hope, scientists will be able to “design” a targeted drug for many more types of cancer.
Prevention is Better than Cure
Consider these seven cancer prevention tips.
1. Don’t use tobacco
Using any type of tobacco puts you on a collision course with cancer. Smoking has been linked to various types of cancer – including cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, larynx, pancreas, bladder, cervix and kidney. Even if you don’t use tobacco, exposure to secondhand smoke might increase your risk of lung cancer. Avoiding tobacco – or deciding to stop using it – is one of the most important health decisions you can make.
2. Eat a healthy diet
Although making healthy selections at the grocery store and at mealtime can’t guarantee cancer prevention, it might help reduce your risk. Consider these guidelines:
• Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Base your diet on fruits, vegetables and other foods from plant sources-such as whole grains and beans. In addition, women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts might have a reduced risk of breast cancer. The Mediterranean diet focuses on mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. People who follow the Mediterranean diet choose healthy fats, like olive oil, over butter and fish instead of red meat.
• Avoid obesity. Eat lighter and leaner by choosing fewer high-calorie foods, including refined sugars and fat from animal sources.
• If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. The risk of various types of cancer – including cancer of the breast, colon, lung, kidney and liver – increases with the amount of alcohol you drink and the length of time you’ve been drinking regularly.
• Limit processed meats. A report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, concluded that eating large amounts of processed meat can slightly increase the risk of certain types of cancer.
3. Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active
Maintaining a healthy weight might lower the risk of various types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, prostate, lung, colon and kidney. Physical activity counts, too. In addition to helping you control your weight, physical activity on its own might lower the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer.
Adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits. But for substantial health benefits, strive to get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic physical activity.
4. Protect yourself from the sun
Skin cancer is one of the most common kinds of cancer – and one of the most preventable. Try these tips:
• Avoid midday sun. Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
• Stay in the shade. When you’re outdoors, stay in the shade as much as possible. Sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat help, too.
• Cover exposed areas. Wear tightly woven, loose fitting clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Opt for bright or dark colors, which reflect more ultraviolet radiation than pastels or bleached cotton.
• Don’t skimp on sunscreen. Use generous amounts of sunscreen when you’re outdoors, and reapply often.
• Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. These are just as damaging as natural sunlight.
5. Get immunized
Cancer prevention includes protection from certain viral infections. Talk to your doctor about immunization against:
• Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B can increase the risk of developing liver cancer. The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for certain high-risk adults – such as adults who are sexually active but not in a mutually monogamous relationship, people with sexually transmitted infections, intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men, and health care or public safety workers who might be exposed to infected blood or body fluids.
6. Avoid risky behaviors
Another effective cancer prevention tactic is to avoid risky behaviors that can lead to infections that, in turn, might increase the risk of cancer. For example:
• Practice safe sex. Limit your number of sexual partners, and use a condom when you have sex. The more sexual partners you have in your lifetime, the more likely you are to contract a sexually transmitted infection – such as HIV or HPV. People who have HIV or AIDS have a higher risk of cancer of the anus, liver and lung. HPV is most often associated with cervical cancer, but it might also increase the risk of cancer of the anus, penis, throat, vulva and vagina.
• Don’t share needles. Sharing needles with an infected drug user can lead to HIV, as well as hepatitis B and hepatitis C – which can increase the risk of liver cancer. If you’re concerned about drug abuse or addiction, seek professional help.
Kim Patra is a qualified Midwife & Nurse Practioner who has been living and working in Bali for over 30 years. She now runs her own Private Practice & Mothers & Babies center at her Community Health Care office in Sanur.
Copyright © 2019 Kim Patra
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