04 February, 2010

Approximately 40% of cancers are potentially preventable.....

That is the the very good news. But, when it comes to the much dreaded and misunderstood disease - there are still too many bad news. The worst being that cancer treatment is very expensive. The whole process: testing and the exams involved, and medication - is just too costly. Many, if not most, with cancer - can not afford the process. For most with cancer in the developing world, many who have the disease never know so; and for most who have the disease - either there are no proper facilities for taking care of and treating the disease or the expenses involved, are too high.

Each year, over 12 million people receive a cancer diagnosis and 7.6 million die of the disease. The International Agency for Research on Cancer - IARC - released a report that cancer, worldwide, could become the leading cause of deaths this year. Each year cancer kills more people than HIV Aids, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Tobacco use, alcohol use, low vegetable and fruit intake, and infections from hepatitis B, hepatitis C and human papilloma viruses are leading risk factors. Here in the Middle East, cancer is now emerging as a major cause of death. Changing lifestyles, inactivity and lack of exercise, diet, conflicts and wars - are all to blame for the increasing numbers of cancer cases.

Many people in the region have imitated wrong, Western lifestyles; many, frequent the many fast junk food outlets. And many, simply do not eat the right kinds of food. With the so called 'modern' style of living, many here are inactive most of the time and rarely do exercises. Worst of all, too many people - especially the young - smoke. Arab countries have failed to effectively control smoking; especially - of shisha. Contrary to what most people here believe - that smoking shisha is less dangerous to health - shisha smokers should realize that it is far more dangerous than cigarette smoking because the amount of nicotine in shisha can not be measured due to packing difference.

Reportedly - in the Middle East, more than 250,000 people develop cancer every year and cancer kills more than 145,000 people – a nearly 60 percent mortality ratio. It is estimated that about 800,000 Arabs have cancer and that about 120 children out of every one million have the disease. These figures are most likely wrong, as many with the disease do not know that they have it or, due to inadequate facilities - many with the disease, too, are wrongly diagnosed as not having it; or many who have cancer, especially women, prefer to keep it a secret. Many women with cancer here - breast cancer in particular - have been divorced after being diagnosed with the disease. Note - worldwide: breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths among women and a woman dies from breast cancer every 75 seconds.

Here in Yemen, the chewing of khat qat - compounds the problem even more. One of the main reasons for neck, throat and head cancer in Yemen is addiction to smoking, chewing qat and having shama - tobacco flour. Reportedly - 90-95% of  patients with mouth cancer and 25-50% with tongue cancer have shama, chew qat, and smoke almost daily. Cancer facilities here, are inadequate and are already overwhelmed by the number of cases; there are simply not enough treatment and beds available for every Yemeni who is diagnosed with cancer. Many who can afford decide to travel out, to Jordan in particular, for tests, examinations and treatment. The Kingdom of Jordan is the only Arab country that has facilities for comprehensive cancer care and at a fair cost; the King Hussein Cancer Center is the only specialized cancer center in the Middle East that treats both adult and pediatric patients.

The International Union Against Cancer (UICC) initiated the World Cancer Campaign in 2005 in response to the Charter of Paris of 2000. This year's theme on today's World Cancer Day is: “Cancer can be prevented too”. Cancer is preventable. Experts suggest that 40% of cancer infections worldwide can be prevented. Altering lifestyles does reduce the risk of having the disease: quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, a healthy lifestyle with a proper diet and regular exercise; and guarding against infections that lead to cancer - can significantly cut down the risk of cancer.

WHO on cancer

Image with statistics from Cancer Research UK

Cancer symbol from Enagic