In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the global cancer burden to have risen to 18.1 cases with 9.6 million million deaths. That’s in 2018 alone! It further gave the global number of people who are alive within 5 years of cancer diagnosis, called the 5-year prevalence, estimated at 43.8 million. Currently, it is the second highest cause of deaths globally.
The WHO estimates that one in 5 men and one in 6 women worldwide develop cancer during their lifetime, and one in 8 men and one in 11 women die from the disease. Cancer accounts for one in every 6 deaths globally. Approximately, 70% of deaths from cancer occur in low and middle-income countries.
The increasing rate of cancer induced mortality, especially in low and middle income countries of the world is a source of major concern. Annually, millions of dollars are sunk into cancer research and cancer treatments. But the question that confound most people is; what causes Cancer?
Unlike some diseases, Cancer does not have one singularly defined causal factor. It is often a combination of several factors. Cancer is triggered by mutations (changes) to the DNA within the cells of humans. The DNA within the cell works like a computer system which commands and programmes the cell on what to do. These include, how and when to grow, divide and when to die off. Wrong signals from the DNA can distort the normal procedure and may result in the abnormal (cancerous) growth of the cell.
- For instance, this gene mutation can:
- Trigger the rapid growth of cells in certain part of the body.
- Fail to communicate to the cells when the right number of cells have been produced to stop growing.
- Fail to correct errors; DNA have repair genes which look for errors in a cell’s DNA and make the necessary corrections. This may fail to happen if there is mutation resulting to the production of cancerous cells.
WHAT CAUSES THIS MUTATION (CHANGES) ?
There are two basic factors:
- In born gene mutation: an offspring can be born with a gene mutation inherited from the parents. This is why people who have family history of cancer cases are often advised to do more cancer screening than those who don’t. It is not that cancer is hereditary but the gene mutations can be hereditary. If the cancer in a parent was due to gene mutation, if the offspring inherits such mutation, it automatically becomes a risk factor. This factor however accounts for a small percentage of cancer cases.
- Gene mutation that occur during One’s life time: these are mutations that are caused due to lifestyle, exposures and health conditions. These factors include:
- AGE: older people are more susceptible to cancer. However, people of any age can be diagnosed of cancer. Prostrate cancer is one of such cancers that manifest with increase in age.
- LIFESTYLE:lifestyles such as;
- Smoking; a major contributor to lung, colon cancers and oral cancers
- Frequent intake of alcohol, carbonated drinks (soft drinks)
- Being obese; predisposes one to cancers, Cardiovascular diseases, etc.
- Engaging in unsafe sex; a major factor in cervical cancer
- Sedentary life style (lack of exercise). Exercise boosts the immune system and oxygenates the body. Research has shown that cancer cells do not function well in an oxygenated environment.
- Food sources; such as nitrites and poly aromatic hydrocarbons often generated by smoking of food eg. barbecue.
- Staying around people who smoke (second hand smoking) can put you at risk of having cancer.
- ENVIRONMENT: your environment has a huge impact in your life. This include both the home and work environment. Exposure to radiations, ultraviolet radiation from the sun can be contributing factors. Also, chemicals such as asbestos,vinyl chloride, benzene etc. are associated with the increased risk of cancer.
- VIRUSES: in the body: certain viruses increase the risk of cancer. Examples include; Human Papiloma Virus (HPV) (which increases the risk of cervical cancer), Hepatitis B (which increases the risk of liver cancer).
Therefore, to reduce the risk of coming down with cancer, individuals must make concerted efforts to seek regular medical help (early screening) as well as make the right adjustments to their lifestyle. While nothing is hundred percent guaranteed, it is fulfilling to know that the risk has been decreased.
©Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria
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