World Cancer Day, observed on February 4th, promotes ways to ease the global burden of cancer. This year’s theme was ‘Debunk the Myths’, aiming to dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer.
The World Health Organisation, with the International Union Against Cancer, is promoting the idea that the global battle with cancer won’t be won with treatment alone. More resources need to be used to stress the importance of prevention measures to stem the ongoing cancer crisis.
Myth 1: Cancer is just a health issue
Cancer is a serious medical condition, but the impact of diagnosis and treatment has wide-ranging economic, social, familial, psychological, and discriminatory implications. A cancer diagnosis can affect a person’s ability to earn a living, and treatment can lead to financial ruin in some instances.
Cancer in developing countries is becoming a huge problem as education, health care access and preventative measures are lacking. As urbanisation spreads rapidly, local and international health systems are undermined, leaving people dying from the disease.
Myth 2: Cancer is a death sentence
Cancers which once would have been considered a death sentence are now being cured and even prevented by great understanding, awareness, prevention methods, and lifestyle changes. One of the goals of World Cancer Day is to promote prevention as the new treatment – greater education and raising awareness of screening programmes, and lifestyle changes can make a huge impact on cancer rates.
A good example is cervical cancer. Access to screening methods such as PAP smears and a greater awareness has lowered the mortality rate by half between 1990 and 2010 in the UK.
Myth 3: There’s nothing I can do about cancer
The World Cancer Research Fund says no more than 10% of all cancers are due to inherited genes. In addition, one third of the most common cancers can be prevented by lifestyle changes. Your lifestyle and habits will shape your overall health, and can make the difference between developing cancer at 40 or being diagnosed at 70 years old. WHO recommends a diet packed with whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, small amounts of red meat and alcohol, and cutting out processed meat entirely.
Chronic infections from hepatitis B, C, and some strains of HPV are leading risk factors for several cancers. With the development of an HPV vaccine people can be protected from two strains of the virus which have been linked to cervical cancer, genital warts, and other types of cancer.
Overall there is a lot that can be done to fight cancer on an individual, community and governmental level, from promoting healthy lifestyles and workplaces to promoting prevention methods.
The takeaway message from this year’s World Cancer Day is prevention. Lifestyle changes, raising awareness of, and access to, screenings, especially in developing countries, is vital if we want to see the global rate of cancer decrease in the coming decades.
Image: Svilen Milev (sxc.hu)