Today marks World Cancer Day, an international day marked every 4th of February to raise awareness on cancer, its prevention, detection and treatment. The prevention of cancer begins with choosing a healthy lifestyle and understandings our bodies well.
The exact reason why people develop cancer is sometimes unknown. But we do know some of the things that cause or influence the risk of developing cancer.
You can reduce your risk of getting cancer by making positive lifestyle choices such as abstaining from smoking, eating a healthy diet and keeping yourself physically active.
But there are some risk factors you cannot control. Age is one of the risk factors among this. Generally, people above 60 are more likely to develop a certain kind of cancer than younger people (those under 45). But this doesn’t rule out the fact that younger people are at a risk of this disease.
Cancer also develops because of factors, of which we cannot even control.
This is where regular body check-ups and cancer screenings comes in. Your doctor can give you more information about particular screening programs.
I recently went through one of the cancer reports published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows that at least one or two in ten people will get cancer during their lives in sub-saharan region,and this shows that everyone has certain risks of developing cancer. A combination of genes, lifestyle and environmental factors can affect certain risks.
Let’s look at one at a time.
Smoking: Smoking will greatly increase your risk of getting lung cancer. About 9 in 10 people who develop lung cancer are smokers. But not everyone who smokes will develop cancer.
If you smoke, giving up is the single most important you can do for your health. Although data are yet to be actualised, in Tanzania more than 1 in five cancer deaths are linked to smoking. Smoking increases the risk of many cancers including cancer of the mouth, throat, lung, bladder, kidney, pancreas, bowel, stomach and cervix.
Passive smoking: Breathing in other people’s smoke (passive smoking) also increases your risk of developing cancer. If you are worried about passive smoking, talk to your doctor. Help is available if you need to quit smoking. Ask your GP or psychologist for further help.
Family history: Cancer is very common and most of us have relatives who have had cancer. people often worry that a history of cancer in their family greatly increases their risk of developing it. But fewer, 3 in 10 cancers are associated with a strong family history of cancer.
Age: This is one of the biggest risk factors. Cancer can occur at any age but the risk of developing cancer increases as we get older. More than three out of five people who get cancer are over the age of 65 and more than a third are over 70.
Lifestyle: Other lifestyle risk factors can play an important role in the development of cancer. Around 4 in 10 cancers in Tanzania could be prevented by lifestyle changes.
Diet is key
A healthy diet can reduce several factors of cancer too, particularly bowel cancer. It can also lower your risk of other health problems such as heart diseases and diabetes.
You should eat foods that are high in fibre, such as wholewheat breads, whole grains, beans and oatmeal. Try to eat five portions of fruits and vegetables everyday. Limiting how much salt, red meat and processed meat you eat is also important.