World Cancer Day, celebrated every year on February 4th, stands as a worldwide forum to enhance consciousness regarding cancer, bring communities together in the battle against this deadly disease, and promote efforts towards prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment. According to recent data from the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. In 2020, there were an estimated 19.3 million new cancer cases and 10 million cancer-related deaths globally. The incidence of cancer is on the rise, posing a significant public health concern. While cancer can manifest in various forms, certain types consistently rank high in terms of prevalence. Breast cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer are among the most commonly diagnosed cancers globally. These trends often vary by region, emphasizing the importance of understanding local patterns for effective prevention and treatment strategies. Cancer does not affect all populations equally, and disparities persist in terms of access to healthcare, early detection, and treatment outcomes. The increasing burden of cancer places a substantial strain on healthcare systems worldwide. From diagnostics and treatment to long-term survivorship care, the demand for cancer-related services continues to grow. This necessitates strategic planning, resource allocation, and international collaboration to build resilient healthcare infrastructures capable of effectively managing the rising tide of cancer cases.
Risk factors for cancer
Alcohol and tobacco use:
Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and tobacco use are major contributors to various types of cancer including mouth, throat, larynx (voice box), liver, lungs, and others. The more you increase the intake, the higher your risk of developing cancer.
Diet and Nutrition:
Unhealthy eating patterns, which include excessive consumption of processed foods, red and processed meats, and insufficient intake of fruits and vegetables, can elevate the likelihood of developing specific types of cancer.
Lack of physical activity
The absence of consistent physical exercise is linked to a heightened susceptibility to several forms of cancer. There is a correlation between not engaging in regular physical activity and an increased risk of developing multiple types of cancer. It has been demonstrated that physical activity has protective effects.
Some infections can lead to the development of cancer. Viruses such as human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B and C, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are responsible for causing liver cancer, cervical cancer, and other related conditions.
Excess weight or obesity is associated with an increased possibility of getting specific types of cancer, including breast, colorectal, and endometrial cancer.
Exposure to specific environmental contaminants, chemicals, and toxins can potentially increase the likelihood of developing cancer. Another issue of concern is the exposure to carcinogens in the workplace.
Empowering Wellness: Targeting Risk Factors and Promoting Healthy Lifestyles
Understanding Modifiable Risk Factors:
Cancer prevention begins with understanding and addressing modifiable risk factors. Lifestyle choices such as tobacco use, unhealthy diets, lack of physical activity, and exposure to environmental carcinogens significantly contribute to cancer incidence. Targeting these factors through awareness and education becomes a powerful strategy to empower individuals to make informed decisions.
Tobacco Control: A Cornerstone of Prevention:
Tobacco remains a leading cause of preventable cancers. There is a critical need for effective tobacco control measures, including awareness campaigns, smoking cessation programs, and policy advocacy. By encouraging a tobacco-free lifestyle, we take a substantial step toward reducing the prevalence of lung, mouth, and other tobacco-related cancers.
Promoting Nutritious Diets and Active Lifestyles:
Healthy diets and regular physical activity are fundamental to cancer prevention. Encourage communities to embrace nutritious diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while reducing the intake of processed foods. Simultaneously, promoting active lifestyles contributes to maintaining a healthy weight, reducing the risk of obesity-related cancers.
Sun Safety and Skin Cancer Awareness:
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a known risk factor for skin cancer. Urge communities to prioritize sun safety measures, including using sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding prolonged sun exposure. By fostering awareness, empower individuals to protect themselves against skin cancer, one of the most preventable cancer types.
Environmental and Occupational Hazards:
Beyond personal choices, awareness programs address environmental and occupational factors contributing to cancer risk. Communities are encouraged to advocate for safer workplaces, reduced exposure to hazardous substances, and policies that mitigate environmental risks. Collective action ensures healthier living and working conditions for all.
It is crucial to understand that minimizing contact with established risk factors and embracing a healthful way of life, which encompasses routine screenings and prompt identification, can effectively diminish the overall probability of developing cancer. Moreover, vaccination against certain viruses like HPV and hepatitis B may successfully reduce the likelihood of getting diseases that are linked to a heightened susceptibility to cancer. Frequent examinations and screenings are essential for promptly identifying and addressing potential issues. The primary objectives of Cancer Day are to educate the general public, promote for healthy habits and cultivate a common commitment to decreasing the worldwide impact of cancer. World Cancer Day serves a pivotal role in unifying individuals, organisations, and governments globally to address the significance of awareness, early intervention, and continued research. Its aim is to strive for a future when the prevalence of this fearsome and widespread disease is reduced, resulting in fewer individuals experiencing its detrimental effects. Committing to a vow on World Cancer Day to prioritise prevention is a significant and proactive strategy. Prevention is crucial in decreasing the occurrence of cancer and minimising its effects on individuals and communities.
By Dr. Sameer Ullah Khan, Shariqa Jan and Kaneez Fatima
Dr. Sameer Ullah Khan is a Post Doctoral Fellow at The University of Texas MD Anderson US. Shariqa Jan and Kaneez Fatima are PhD Scholars at Cancer Pharmacology Division, CSIR-Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, Sanat Nagar, Srinagar