Understanding the C-word: Cancer
MANILA, Philippines - Everyone knows someone who has been or is currently affected by cancer. But how much do you really know about the disease?
“Cancer is the 3rd leading cause of sickness and death in the Philippines,” said Dr. Felycette Gay Martinez-Lapus, president of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology.
Despite this glaring statistic, “public awareness on cancer prevention is low. Most Filipino patients consult a doctor only when their cancer is already in its advanced stage,” added Dr. Ma. Angelina Mirasol, president of the Philippine Society of Hematology and Blood Transfusion. As a result, “survival rates in the country are relatively low.”
To raise cancer awareness, healthcare solutions provider Novartis Healthcare Philippines partnered with medical societies and other groups and held a media briefing on cancer in Makati City last September 3.
By definition, cancer cells are “abnormal cells that grow. And the two ominous signs of cancer are the ability to invade tissues and to metastasize — meaning, it can get out of the primary place where it came from,” said Dr. Lapus.
Citing 2008 data from the World Health Organization, Lapus said that, in 2000, there were about 10 million newly-diagnosed cancer patients in the world, causing 6 million cancer deaths. In 2008, that number rose to 12.7 million with 70% coming from developing countries “of which the Philippines is one.”
In 2020, there will be 15 million newly-diagnosed cancer cases with, again, 70% coming from developing countries. “You see the global trend of increasing incidence of cancer across the world,” explained Lapus.
In terms of the leading causes of death, Lapus cited lung cancer. “You will see that lung cancer, which is the number one cause of all cancers, ranks 7th [in the common] causes of death worldwide.” Heart disease, stroke and lower respiratory conditions form the top 3.
In the Philippines, the top 5 cancer sites are in the breasts, lungs, liver, colon and rectum, and cervix. It’s important to point out, said Lapus that “we have the number one incidence of breast cancer among Asian countries.”
Meanwhile, the top 5 causes of cancer deaths in the Philippines are cancer of the lungs, liver, breast, colon and rectum, and leukemia — “a form of cancer that originates in the blood-forming tissue of the bone marrow,” said Mirasol.
There are modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for cancer.
“When we say non-modifiable, these are age, gender and genetics,” said Lapus. “But the majority of risk factors are modifiable. And this is what we would like to impart as part of our education.”
“We call [cigarette] smoke the perfect carcinogen,” said Lapus. “There are 4,000 compounds in smoke, and 2,000 of it are carcinogenic.” Smoking is the known cause of about 30% of all cancer deaths, with lung cancer directly attributable to smoking.
Cancers associated with smoking are:
- Lung cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Oropharyngeal cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Renal cell cancer
- Stomach cancer
2. Viral infections
Viral infections also pose cancer risks, and there are two:
- Chronic infections from hepatitis B and C
- HPV virus
The good thing is that there are vaccines available to prevent hepatitis B and the HPV virus.
“Fat produces excess amounts of estrogen,” said Lapus. “And high levels of estrogen have been implicated in the occurrence of breast cancer and endometrial cancer.”
The types of malignancies associated with obesity are:
4. Alcohol intake
Lapus warned that excessive alcohol intake is also a risk factor for cancer. “Alcohol is converted into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde which damages the DNA. [This can cause] mutations of DNA where malignancy can start.”
When alcohol is paired with smoking, the risks are greater. “Alcohol makes it easier for the mouth and throat to absorb cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco.”
According to Lapus, “poor nutrition, poor physical activity and obesity may be responsible for about 30% of all cancers.”
Lapus suggested 3 ways to fight cancer:
It’s all a matter of being aware and “recognizing the warning signs.”
While not all cancers are preventable, 30% of them are. “You can do this by lessening your exposure to risk factors, and also decreasing the susceptibility of the individual to these malignancies through vaccines,” said Lapus.
Of course, it goes without saying that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and having annual medical check-ups also help. Cancer treatment, meanwhile, “is a multi-disciplinary approach and a partnership between the physician and the patient.” - Rappler.com
Pink badge on woman's chest photo from Shutterstock
Peter Imbong is a fulltime freelance writer, sometimes a stylist; and on some strange nights, a host. After starting his career in a business magazine, he now writes about lifestyle, entertainment, fashion, and profiles of different personalities. Check out his blog, Peter Tries to Write.