Every year, February 4 is observed as World Cancer Day (WCD). This international awareness day is led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). The 2023 campaign aims to spread awareness about cancer and encourage efforts for prevention and treatment of the disease. A leading cause of deaths globally, cancer claims about 10 million lives annually. Reports suggest that about one-third of cancers are preventable – a solid reason to adopt a healthy lifestyle and prevention strategies to reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Cancer occurs due to the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells to other parts of the body. These cells can spread throughout the body resulting in tumors and damaging the immune system. The most common types of cancer are breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, prostate cancer and lymphoma. The signs and symptoms associated with different types of cancer vary from person to person and may depend on its location and extent to which the cancer cells have spread. Common symptoms include – lump or area of thickening (that can be felt under the skin), weight changes (including unintended loss or gain), changes in bowel or bladder habits, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, and breathing difficulty.
The 2023 observance offers a platform to highlight the significance of early detection and treatment for reducing the loss of precious human lives. Early diagnosis and timely treatment can help improve the chances of survival. Treatment for cancers include a combination of one or more modalities – radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, hormone therapy and immunotherapy – which again, will depend on the specific stage of cancer.
It’s important that people have adequate knowledge about the risk factors for cancer and the strategies that can help prevent the disease. Ages, family history, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, being overweight and physical inactivity are some of the known factors that can increase the risk of developing cancer.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle and avoiding things that are known to cause cancer can help reduce the risks of developing the disease –
- Maintain a Healthy Weight and be Physically Active–According to the World Health Organization, at least one-third of common cancers including bladder, breast, colon, endometrial cancer, esophagus, kidney, and stomach cancer are preventable. Focus on maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active. Physical activity on its own may reduce the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer. Doing any amount of physical activity like of moderate aerobic activity of 150 minutes a week or 75 75 minutes a week of hard aerobic activity – bring in great benefits. You can also combine moderate and high intensity activity.
- Follow a Healthy Diet – It is estimated that more than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Obesity is strongly linked to an increased risk of developing bowel, breast, uterine, ovarian, pancreatic, esophageal, kidney, and gallbladder cancers later in life. Eating healthy foods can help prevent cancer to some extent. Include fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans in your diet and limit the intake of refined sugars and high-calorie and processed food items.
- Stop/Limit Alcohol Consumption – Alcohol consumption is strongly linked with an increased risk of several cancers, including cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, bowel, liver and breast.
- Stop Using Tobacco – Tobacco causes 8 million deaths every year and accounts for at least 25 percent of all cancer deaths. Tobacco usage has been found to cause around 15 different types of cancer including oral cancers, lung, liver, stomach, bowel and ovarian cancers, as well as some types of leukaemia (cancers of the blood). Quitting smoking at any age can make a huge a difference by increasing life expectancy and quality of life.
- Avoid Too Much Sun Exposure – Excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is one of the major risk factors for skin cancer. Avoid unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun as well as tanning beds and solariums. Stay in the shade, cover up the skin, and avoid prolonged exposure to the sun.
- Get Vaccinated -Protecting against certain viral infections can help reduce cancer risk. Get vaccinated against Hepatitis B and Human and papillomavirus (HPV).
- Avoid Risky Behaviors – Avoiding risky behaviors that can lead to infections can help reduce the risk of cancer. These include – practicing safe sex and not sharing needles.
- Get Regular Medical Screenings – Regular self-exams and screenings for cancers – such as cancer of the skin, colon, cervix and breast – improves chances of finding cancer early.
The theme of 2023 World Cancer Day is “Close the Care Gap”. The goal is to address the inequities in cancer treatment and mobilizing communities to fight for equitable access. As part of WCD, public events, awareness campaigns, and educational programs are conducted across the country to promote cancer awareness and motivate individuals to take necessary action to reduce the impact of cancer on their lives and communities.
Do your bit – get involved and create change!