According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths, or one in six deaths, in 2018. Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer are the most common types of cancer in men, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervical and thyroid cancer are the most common among women.
The WHO has pointed out that the cancer burden continues to grow globally, exerting tremendous physical, emotional and financial strain on individuals, families, communities and health systems.
Many health systems in low and middle-income countries are the least prepared to manage this burden, and large numbers of cancer patients globally do not have access to timely, quality diagnosis and treatment. However, according to WHO, in countries where health systems are strong, survival rates of many types of cancers are improving thanks to accessible early detection, quality treatment and survivorship care.
What is very worrying is the fact that the number of cancer deaths could increase by over 50 per cent by 2030 if immediate global action is not taken, especially in the low and middle-income countries where most of the deaths are likely to occur. The statistics regarding cancer and its impact on individuals and society tell a sad tale. However, it should motivate us to work harder for better results.
It should be noted that between 30 to 40 per cent of cancer cases could be prevented and one-third of cancer cases could be cured through early diagnoses and treatment. The sad thing, however, is that the medicines, technologies and services are not widely available in low and middle-income countries and this results in the majority of premature cancer deaths each year.
In Guyana, cancer is one of the leading causes of death and we, as guardians of our own destiny, should continue to make arduous efforts in our campaign to reduce the number of persons dying from the disease. For example, individuals could assist in the prevention of cancer by doing simple things such as making sure they eat a healthy diet, engage in regular adequate physical activity and the overall maintenance of good health.
Research has shown that physical inactivity is linked to breast and colon cancers. WHO’s Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health detail how different amounts and intensities of physical activity for all age groups can help reduce non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including some cancers. It is also worthy to note that the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research has advised that cancer could be prevented if persons could be as lean as possible without becoming underweight; be physically active for at least thirty minutes each day, and avoid sugary drinks among other things.
The three main cancers in Guyana are breast cancer, cervical cancer and prostate cancer. While cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer that is easily prevented through regular screening and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions, far too many women ignore the pre-testing option and seek medical advice and treatment only when they begin to develop signs of illness. In many cases, indications of physical illness or signs of discomfort often suggest that the cancer is at an advanced stage. Persons should, therefore, be encouraged to have regular tests done since pre-symptoms are not that visible.
The Public Health Ministry, along with NGOs such as the Cancer Society and leading private sector bodies such as GTT must be commended for the work they are doing in spreading awareness and encouraging persons to get screening etc. These efforts must be stepped up with the involvement and funding from more stakeholders so that the impact could be more far-reaching.
We can never overstate the importance of having more public awareness and education campaigns about the disease with the aim of changing lifestyles and getting persons to do regular testing so that treatment could be administered before the disease becomes life-threatening.