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Awareness and early detection can save a cancer patient’s life


According to the American Cancer Society, on a global scale, one in eight deaths is caused by cancer; the disease causes more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. These numbers are on the rise due to factors such as high incidence of obesity and other external factors such as tobacco, radiation, and chemicals.

The latest report on global cancer-related mortality was released in February last year by the American Cancer Society in partnership with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The report – Global Cancer Facts & Figures, 3rd Edition – showed that in 2012, there were an estimated 14.1 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million deaths attributed to cancer. The latest version of IARC’s online database, Globocan 2012, also predicted the figure will have a substantive increase to 19.3 million new cancer cases per year by 2025, due to the growth and ageing of the global population.

In the UAE, cancer is the third leading cause of death following heart disease and accidents, according to a study by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences’ Centre for Arab Genomic Studies.

Awareness and early diagnosis play a great role in reducing cancer mortality rates, said Dr. Urfan Ul Haq, Consultant in Medical Oncology, Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi. The hospital has one of the most advanced oncology centers in the UAE. Dr. Haq added that the lack of knowledge about cancer is linked to the high incidence of cancer related deaths in the country. To help us better understand the disease and its implications, Dr. Haq addressed some of the most common queries involving cancer.

What causes cancer?

The body comprises trillions of cells, which as part of a normal process: grow, divide and die. However, cancer occurs when cells in a part of the body mutate (with changes in their DNA) and grow abnormally. These cells grow and divide abnormally. Sometimes these cells form a mass or clump called tumors, which can be cancerous or benign (non-cancerous).

There are more than 200 types of cancers, which affect the brain, nose, mouth, throat, thyroid, skin, lungs, breasts, liver, intestines, colon, kidneys, prostate, testes, and ovaries. There are also cancers that affect cells in the blood, nerves, and bones.

Lung cancer is the most common cancer found in men followed by prostate and colorectal cancer while breast cancer, lung, and cervical cancer are more widespread among women in Western world.

What are some of the risk factors for cancer?

Some of the common causes of cancer include genetic factors and heredity; lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet, and lack of physical activity; different types of viral infections and environmental factors such as exposure to chemicals, sun exposure, and radiation.

What are some of the signs and symptoms linked to cancer?

Cancer can often go undetected especially if it doesn’t show any obvious symptoms. Hence it is imperative that an Oncologist is consulted if some of the following symptoms persist for a long time or get worse. The symptoms include unexplained weight loss, recurring fevers, constant fatigue, headaches, and pains that do not get better with treatment, changes in skin tone, moles, lumps or growths in parts of the body, altered bowel habits, coughing blood, etc.

What are some of the screenings and tests used to diagnose cancer?

During periodic health exams, a cancer-related check-up should be considered in addition to other diseases. Females should learn how to do self-breast examination. Screenings for cervical cancer are recommended for women from the age of 21, while those over the age of 40 should go for regular check-ups for breast cancer. Men above the age of 50 should also undergo screening for prostate cancer. People with a family history of cancer or those with the highest risk factors should also consider regular screening at an early age.

There are several diagnostic tests used to check for cancer, including CT and PET scans, MRI, biopsy, blood tests, pap tests, mammography, colonoscopy, ultrasound, and tumor marker tests.

What are the most common treatments for cancer?

Cancer is treated with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormones, and immunotherapy – depending on the type and stage.

How can you prevent cancer?

An active and healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced, antioxidant-rich diet complemented by exercise is the best regimen to prevent cancer. Staying away from tobacco is recommended as is protecting yourself from environmental elements such as UVA and UVB radiation, and chemical exposure. Regular health screenings are also a very good measure to keep cancer at bay.

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