Cancer, A Lifestyle Death Trap

Cancer!!! What comes into peoples mind whenever they hear the term is death or a terminal illness. Cancer is a subject of unknown fear, stigma and is associated with long-term suffering leading to death. Most people also refer to cancer as an incurable disease due to the unknown and little knowledge related to the disease. The word cancer has been loosely translated to mean death especially in Africa population where the disease has had a poor prognosis. In fact, some patients and relatives still prefer that the information should not be disclosed to them due to the stigma and the pain associated with cancer. It has generally been accepted by most researchers that the major cause of cancer is a poor lifestyle. Due to the vast wide nature of cancer as a topic, today we will narrow down our discussion on cancer and lifestyle.

Cancer refers to the unregulated or abnormal growth of cells in the body with the potential to metastasize. Most cancers are due to mutations in the genes in the body cells from environmental factors. The cancer-causing genes (oncogenes) are expressed in inappropriately excess levels in the body leading to cell mutations and hence abnormal cell growth.  In patients with cancer, tumor suppressor genes ( the gene that regulates cell growth)  are disabled.

Data from the World Health Organization shows that one in every six deaths is caused by cancer. Cancer is mostly a lifestyle disease and its management has proved difficult due to the inadequate knowledge and research in the field, but majorly the problem has been shown to be as a result of poor lifestyle. Lifestyle diseases have proved to be a typical predisposing factor to the disease and they include tobacco use, the commonest risk factor for lung cancer. Obesity, lack of exercise, infections, alcohol intake and poor diet are other predisposing factors for cancer.

Smoking cigarettes have been shown to cause over twenty-two percent of cancer-related. Tobacco smoke is the biggest contributor with over 90% as the main cause of lung cancer. Besides lung cancer, tobacco smoking also causes esophageal, stomach and larynx cancer. Alcohol consumption has also been proven as a trigger to cancer. Approximately 10% and 3% of males and females respectively with cancer have had alcohol exposure. Alcohol use is the common cause of stomach and liver cancer.

Other lifestyle diseases such as physical inactivity and obesity also contribute to over 30% of cancer deaths.  Obesity alone has been shown to contribute to over 10% of cancer deaths. People with a higher body mass index (BMI) have been shown to be more predisposed with several types of cancers. Lack of physical activity is one of the major causes of obesity and a big risk factor for cancer. Overeating and a poor diet rich in red meat has been shown to be triggers for gene mutation and therefore cancer.

Infectious diseases, especially in the developing worlds, have also been shown to cause different types of cancers. Approximately 18% of cancer deaths are related to infectious diseases especially viruses and the percentage is even higher in Africa and Asia. Viruses that may trigger gene mutations leading to cancer ( oncoviruses)  include human papillomavirus which causes cervical cancer, Epstein Barr virus( b cell lymph proliferative disease and Kaposi sarcoma herpes virus. A bacterial infection which may also predispose one to cancer is Helicobacter pylori which cause stomach cancer.

Other causes of cancer include exposure to chemicals such as lead from fuel emission and asbestos from industries. These chemicals have the ability to cause mutation of the genes thus predisposing the individuals to cancer.

Cancer prevention is the active role played by the health worker or the individual to reduce and prevent cancer risk. Since over 90% of the cancers are environmentally related controlling environmental causes has proven effective in the management of the disease. This can be done by avoiding cigars, obesity, alcohol, STIs, pollutions and poor diet. Diets rich in red meat and low in fruits and vegetables are some of the poor dieting methods that when improved can prevent cancer. Many pieces of research have shown that processed meat, sausages have been directly linked to cancer. Exercise and physical activities have proven to be effective in preventing not only cancer as a disease but also on the management of most heart conditions such as atherosclerosis and other forms of preventable diseases such as hypertension.

Cancer patients go through a lot of physical, psychological and spiritual torture. With appropriate knowledge and with the assistance of the palliative team, the patients find better ways of coping with the disease. Healthcare workers have played a crucial role in palliative care especially to those with terminal illnesses such as cancer.