Are cancers treatable? This is one the numerous questions people usually ask when they are confronted with the diagnosis. It is not unconnected to the morbidity and mortality often associated with most cancers especially in low-income settings
What is cancer ?
Cancer in an umbrella term that describes the disease conditions that occurs when cellular changes cause the uncontrolled growth and division of cells within the body
There are various types of cancers affecting different part of the body. While some types of cancer cause rapid cell growth, others cause cells to grow and divide at a slower rate.
Some forms of cancer may result in visible growths called tumors, while others, such as leukemia (cancers of the blood) do not.
Cancer is one of the world’s leading causes of death. World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2021, the world crossed a sobering new threshold where an estimated 20 million people were diagnosed with cancer, and 10 million died.
The most common cancers
- Breast cancer.
And many more
The most common in 2020 (in terms of new cases of cancer) were:
- breast (2.26 million cases);
- lung (2.21 million cases);
- colon and rectum (1.93 million cases);
- prostate (1.41 million cases);
- skin (non-melanoma) (1.20 million cases); and
- stomach (1.09 million cases).
The most common causes of cancer death in 2020 were:
- lung (1.80 million deaths);
- colon and rectum (916 000 deaths);
- liver (830 000 deaths);
- stomach (769 000 deaths); and
- breast (685 000 deaths).
Causes of cancer?
Cancer arises from the transformation of normal cells into tumour cells in a multi-stage process that generally progresses from a pre-cancerous lesion to a malignant tumour. These changes are the result of the interaction between a person’s genetic factors and three categories of external agents, including:
- physical carcinogens, such as ultraviolet and ionizing radiation;
- chemical carcinogens, such as asbestos, components of tobacco smoke, alcohol, aflatoxin (a food contaminant), and arsenic (a drinking water contaminant); and
- biological carcinogens, such as infections from certain viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Cancer-causing infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis, are responsible for approximately 30% of cancer cases in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
Around one-third of deaths from cancer are due to tobacco use, high body mass index, alcohol consumption, low fruit and vegetable intake, and lack of physical activity.
Are Cancers Treatable ?
All cancers can be treated, and many can be prevented or cured. However, what determines the outcome of cancer is the time of presentation, diagnosis and socioeconomic.
Early detection of cancer is key to treatment success. When diagnosed early, several complication which may result from the disease conditions may be prevented, thereby helping the persons with cancer lead a healthy life.
Cancer mortality is reduced when cases are detected and treated early. There are two components of early detection: early diagnosis and screening.
When identified early, cancer is more likely to respond to treatment and can result in a greater probability of survival with less morbidity, as well as less expensive treatment. Significant improvements can be made in the lives of cancer patients by detecting cancer early and avoiding delays in care.
Screening aims to identify individuals with findings suggestive of a specific cancer or pre-cancer before they have developed symptoms. When abnormalities are identified during screening, further tests to establish a definitive diagnosis should follow, as should referral for treatment if cancer is proven to be present.
There is a clear distinction on the outcome of cancers between high- and low-income countries, with comprehensive treatment reportedly available in more than 90% of high-income countries but less than 15% of low-income countries.
This means that someone with cancer I low-income country is more likely to die from the disease compared to another person with the same type of cancer who resides in high-income country.
The WHO reports that the survival of children diagnosed with cancer is more than 80% in high-income countries, and less than 30% in low- and middle-income countries. And breast cancer survival five years after diagnosis now exceeds 80% in most high-income countries, compared with 66% in India and just 40% in South Africa.
Furthermore, the funding for cancer is grossly undermined by the governments in low-income countries with 37% as revealed by WHO survey compared to 78% in high-income countries. This implies that the burden of treating cancer in low-income countries rest greatly on the diagnosed individuals and families, hence worsening their economic condition
Treatment of cancers
The treatment of cancer involves a multidisciplinary action. It has been identified as a key enabler in the provision of high-quality treatment and care for cancer patients. This is instituted once the diagnosis is made.
A correct cancer diagnosis is essential for appropriate and effective treatment because every cancer type requires a specific treatment regimen.
Treatment usually includes surgery, radiotherapy, and/or systemic therapy (chemotherapy, hormonal treatments, targeted biological therapies). Proper selection of a treatment regimen takes into consideration both the cancer and the individual being treated. Completion of the treatment protocol in a defined period of time is important to achieve the predicted therapeutic result.
The Goal Of Treatment
The primary goal is generally to cure cancer or to considerably prolong life.
Improving the patient’s quality of life is also an important goal. This can be achieved by support for the patient’s physical, psychosocial and spiritual well-being and palliative care in terminal stages of cancer.
Cancer risk can be reduced by:
- not using tobacco;
- maintaining a healthy body weight;
- eating a healthy diet, including fruit and vegetables;
- doing physical activity on a regular basis;
- avoiding or reducing consumption of alcohol;
- getting vaccinated against HPV and hepatitis B if you belong to a group for which vaccination is recommended;
- avoiding ultraviolet radiation exposure (which primarily results from exposure to the sun and artificial tanning devices) and/or using sun protection measures;
- ensuring safe and appropriate use of radiation in health care (for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes);
- minimizing occupational exposure to ionizing radiation; and
- reducing exposure to outdoor air pollution and indoor air pollution, including radon (a radioactive gas produced from the natural decay of uranium, which can accumulate in buildings — homes, schools and workplaces).
Source : WHO, CDC, Mayoclinic