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'Cancer Prevention' - In Your Hands

'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' -Henry de Bracton

Cancer – A disease that could wipe the smile// off many faces and cause the deepest anguish is preventable. It is not an exaggeration that 43% of all cancers are preventable. Sunday, 4 February 2007, is World Cancer Day, embodying the theme - “Today’s Children, Tomorrow’s World” will focus on strategies for a cancer free world – a precious gift to our dear children.

Cancer is caused due to the unchecked growth of abnormal cells. There are nearly 100 types of cancers, which could afflict any part of the body. The most common types of cancers are - Lung cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer. More than 7 million people die each year due to cancer with 70% of the deaths occurring in developing countries. Further, 11 million new cases of cancer world-wide are added each year.

The main objective of the ‘World Cancer Day’ campaign is to disseminate crucial information about cancer, with focus on ‘prevention’. The worldwide campaign will make an appeal to parents, healthcare professionals and policy decision-makers, to go the extra mile towards inculcating healthy lifestyle habits in children, so that they grow up to be healthy adults.

Tobacco and Cancer: A smoke-free environment forms the basic premise of any cancer prevention programme. Nearly 30% of all cancer deaths are caused by the use of tobacco in any form. In the year 2006, almost 5 million people world-wide died due to cancer caused by tobacco. Most of the lung cancers in the world today boil down to the use of tobacco. Statistics show that in several regions of the world, more than 30 percent of children have experimented with tobacco products before they have turned 10. Amid such a scenario, children must be taught about the ill-effects of smoking, use of tobacco and it’s far reaching repercussio ns on health. It might be a good idea for policymakers to enforce higher taxes on tobacco products, to discourage many smokers from the habit. The campaign seeks to bring to the fore, the importance of providing children an environment that is tobacco-free.

Obesity and cancers: Overweight and obesity are important causative factors of certain cancers - esophagus, colon, kidney, breast and endometrium. To prevent overweight and obesity, the importance of healthy diet, with an abundance of fruits and vegetables, coupled with regular exercise, cannot be over emphasized.

Chronic Infection and cancers: Nearly one-fifth of all cancers in the world are triggered by chronic infection. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) could cause cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, which is the cause of one million deaths annually. An important facet of every cancer prevention program includes immunization programs for children, which enable maximum protection against such cancers. Nearly, 500,000 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed every year are due to a sexually transmitted virus. About 80 percent of all cervical cancers are reported from developing countries where routine screening, pap smears or treatment is wanting in many aspects. Cervical cancer can be prevented with vaccinations against the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the hepatitis B virus (HBV), capable of offering protection against cervical and liver cancers respectively. It is important to vaccinate girls and young women against the human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, and protect against cervical cancer. Significantly, because both viruses are transmitted through sexual contact, educating children and teenagers about the risks of disease and safe sexual behavior forms an integral part of cancer prevention.

Ultraviolet rays and cancers: Overexposure to the sun is the cause of many types of skin cancers due to the harmful effects of ultra-violet r ays. Nearly 3 million non- melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 malignant melanomas are reported world-wide each year. Regular exposure to sun and sunburn during childhood can increase the risk of melanoma in adulthood. White people who expose themselves for prolonged periods under the sun to get tanned are at special risks. Using protective clothing, hats and sunscreen can help protect against the harmful radiation.

A significant aspect of cancer prevention involves educating people, especially children, about the extended benefits of maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active and avoiding abuse of alcohol. The above factors are also risk factors for other diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Therefore a cancer prevention program can be a panacea for prevention of many other lifestyle diseases as well.


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