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3 months ago
World Cancer Day: 7 things you can do to reduce global burden of cancer

For a thousand years, human life expectancy wasn’t as high as it is today, but deaths due to cancer were practically unheard of. It was mainly prevented by skin melanin, physical activity, diet and other good habits followed by our ancestors. 1 The situation today however, paints a grim picture. Factors such as growth and ageing of the population, increased incidence of risk factors like smoking, obesity and unhealthy eating has made cancer the medical menace it has become today. Cancer is second only to cardiovascular diseases when it comes to medical causes of death. National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research states that in India, there are around 2.5 million people living with cancer. And according to projections by cancer groups in India, the estimated number of cancer cases will rise from 979,786 to 1,148,757 by 2020.2

This steady upward trend doesn’t bode well for the country’s cancer schemes such as Aarogyasri Scheme, Cancer Suraksha Scheme and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya Yojana, which offer financial assistance to the poor. Government efforts to reduce cancer burden at the community level will come to a nought if there are no changes made at the individual level. To bolster cancer prevention and treatment, we should all make these behavioural changes to make a difference to the global burden of cancer.

1. Go for routine check-ups
An effective treatment is not enough to combat cancer burden. Early detection is also important. Evidence, empirical and otherwise, suggests that late detection of cancers increases mortality rate.3 It’s well-known that cancers in advanced stages are difficult to tame. Watch out for early signs of cancers such as lumps, sores that don’t heal, abnormal bleeding, constant indigestion and hoarseness of voice. According to WHO, cancers like that of the breast, cervix, mouth, larynx, colon, rectum and skin can benefit from early detection. Simple tests such as mammography, pap smears and acetic acid tests help in detecting female-specific cancers.

2. Combat obesity
Apart from aesthetic inconveniences, obesity is also the leading cause of diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Studies say that the number of cancer cases caused by obesity alone is 20 percent! The risk is further increased by problems associated with obesity such as unhealthy diet, lack of physical, weight change and body fat distribution. Reports from the International Agency for Research into Cancer and the World Cancer Research Fund say that obesity is linked to cancer types such as endometrial cancer, oesophageal adenocarcinoma, and postmenopausal breast, prostate and renal cancer. Less common malignancies caused by cancer include leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, malignant melanoma and thyroid tumours.4

3. Reduce excessive exposure to sunlight
Some amount of sun exposure is important for vitamin D production and for the treatment of rheumatic disorders, diabetes, ulcers, tuberculosis and gout. However, excessive sun exposure increases the risk for cancer. Ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) from the sun and from tanning beds is the main cause of skin cancer. Melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers can spread across the skin or move downwards towards the blood vessels. If some of the skin cancer cells break free, it can travel to other parts of the body through blood. 5

4. Reduce dependence on plastic
Decreasing dependence on plastic should be on everybody’s agenda. Almost all plastics are known to leach oestrogenic chemicals into the food. In human beings and most mammals, plastics that release endocrine-disrupting and oestrogen-mimicking chemicals can cause many health issues like early puberty and low sperm count. But they can also raise the risk of certain cancers such as that of the breast, ovaries, testes and prostate. That being said, it is also impossible to avoid plastic entirely, because many everyday articles are composed of it. To reduce dependence on plastic, opt for food containers made of glass, ceramic or metal.6

5. Focus on physical activity
Sedentary lifestyle associated with modern lifestyle has been contributing to increased cancer risks. In fact, there is enough epidemiologic evidence that connects higher levels of physical activity to a reduced likelihood of cancers. Incorporating some amount of exercise in your daily life will make a big difference. Turn a new leaf this year by joining a gym or going for morning walks. Moderate to intense physical activity — anything that gets your heart beating faster — is a must!7

6. Reduce meat intake
A plant-based diet works best to reduce cancer risks. Animal products such as red meat and processed meat are linked to an increase in a variety of cancers. Evidence suggests that a largely vegetarian diet not only leads to reduced cancer risks but also prevents recurrence of the diseases. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains instead. However, certain non-vegetarian foods like oily fish and poultry can help in reducing cancer risk. Apart from that, weed out refined and fried foods out of your diet.8

7. Beat addictions
Let go of your smoking and drinking habits this year to bring down cancer risks. Around 80 percent of lung cancer deaths and 30 percent of all cancer-related deaths are caused by tobacco use. There is strong evidence that ties frequent alcohol consumption to cancers at seven sites in the body. Cancers caused by alcohol make up for 5.8 percent of all cancer deaths in the country.9 10

References:

1. Colditz, G. A., Wolin, K. Y., & Gehlert, S. (2012). Applying What We Know to Accelerate Cancer Prevention. Science Translational Medicine, 4(127), 127rv4. http://doi.org/10.1126/scitranslmed.3003218

2.Takiar, R., Nadayil, D., & Nandakumar, A. (2010). Projections of number of cancer cases in India (2010-2020) by cancer groups. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev, 11(4), 1045-9.

3. Wardle, J., Robb, K., Vernon, S., & Waller, J. (2015). Screening for prevention and early diagnosis of cancer. American Psychologist, 70(2), 119.

4. De Pergola, G., & Silvestris, F. (2013). Obesity as a Major Risk Factor for Cancer. Journal of Obesity, 2013, 291546. http://doi.org/10.1155/2013/291546

5. Ananthaswamy, H. N. (2001). Sunlight and skin cancer. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, 1(2), 49. http://doi.org/10.1155/S1110724301000122

6.Yang, C. Z., Yaniger, S. I., Jordan, V. C., Klein, D. J., & Bittner, G. D. (2011). Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(7), 989—996. http://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1003220

7.Brown, J. C., Winters-Stone, K., Lee, A., & Schmitz, K. H. (2012). Cancer, Physical Activity, and Exercise. Comprehensive Physiology, 2(4), 2775—2809. http://doi.org/10.1002/cphy.c120005

8.Lanou, A. J., & Svenson, B. (2011). Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Management and Research, 3, 1—8. http://doi.org/10.2147/CMR.S6910

9.Furrukh, M. (2013). Tobacco Smoking and Lung Cancer: Perception-changing facts. Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, 13(3), 345—358.

10.Connor J. Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer. Addiction. 2017 Feb 1;112(2):222-8.

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