THINK OF THESE: Cancer on the rise

The headline says it all: “Cancer cases on the rise.”

A news dispatch, released by the Agence France Presse (AFP), said that while cancer treatment improves and survival rates go up, “so too does the number of people afflicted with the deadly disease.”

“The 14 million new cancer cases worldwide recorded in 2012 will balloon to 24 million within two decades, outstripping the increase in global population,” the AFP report said, quoting the Geneva-based World Health Organization.

In 2015, all forms of cancer combined claimed 8.8 million lives throughout the world.  This made cancer as the second leading cause of death after heart disease.

“We know how to help avoid it, and to detect it.  We’re getting better at treating it.  But overall, we’re not making real heady in the fight against cancer,” deplored Christopher Leroux, head of communications for France’s League Against Cancer.

The AFP report cited several reasons why cancer cases throughout the world are increasing.  Ageing population has been singled out as one cause.  The older a person, the most likely he or she gets the disease.  “Cancer risk increases with age,” the report pointed out.

Another reason: unhealthy lifestyle.  These include smoking, eating poorly, lack of exercise, drinking alcohol and obesity.

Then, there’s that risk of being exposed to carcinogenic industrial pollutants (asbestos to name one) and organic pollutants (dioxin, heavy metals and small air particles that lodge in the lungs).

In 1998, WHO in its report, Life in the 21st Century: A Vision for All,” warned: “Cancer will remain one of the leading causes of death worldwide.”

In the Philippines, cancer ranks third in leading causes of morbidity and mortality, based on the statistics compiled by the Department of Health.  In the top list are communicable diseases and cardiovascular.

For every 1,000 Filipinos living today, one gets cancer.  And the incidence is higher among females than males, according to the Philippine Cancer Society, Inc. (PCSI). Ninety-one percent occur between the ages of 35 and above.

Three-fourths of all cancer cases in the country emerge among those between the ages 60 and above.  The leading cancer sites/types are lung, breast, cervix, liver, colon and rectum, prostate, stomach, oral cavity, ovary and leukemia.

Cancer is not a pleasant experience.  Symptoms include loss of appetite, the slow wasting of the body, fatigue, stupor, bleeding, loss of motor functions, dementia, paralysis, or even a state of coma.

“I now understand why Jose Rizal made Noli Me Tangere the title for his novel about the cancer of Filipino society.  I know – I have a cancer.  I can’t bear even the slightest touch for it is so painful,” a cancer patient revealed.

Cancer comes from the Greek word karnikos, which means “the crab.”  It is not a modern disease.  Some of our apelike ancestors undoubtedly suffered from it, so did the dinosaurs.  In fact, says Dr. Robert Weinberg, a molecular biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “it is a risk that all multicellular organisms run.”

Each time a human cell divides, it must replicate its DNA, a biochemical manuscript some 3 billion characters long.  In the course of transcribing such a lengthy document, even a skilled typist could be expected to make mistakes, and cells, like typist, occasionally err.

More often than not, the mistakes they make are minor and quickly repaired by proteins that serve as a miniature mechanics.  Occasionally though, cells with defects in their DNA will continue to divide, eventually forming small growths.  That’s the time trouble starts.

“The more cell-division cycles an organism undergoes, the more likely it to accumulate colonies of abnormal cells, each of the offspring of a single progenitor,” wrote “Time” science writer J. Madeleine Nash.  “By the time human reach middle adulthood, then their bodies contain millions of cells that have taken at least one step toward cancer.”

“Cancer may be present in very many ways: as a lump, some change in body function, bleeding, anemia or weight loss – occasionally the first symptoms being from a metastasis,” explains “The New American Desk Encyclopedia.”  “Less often tumors produce substances mimicking the action of hormones or producing remote effects such as neuritis.”  Neuritis is any disorder of the peripheral nervous system, which interferes with sensation, the nerve control of muscle, or both.

Like taxes and death, cancer is no respecter.  It strikes anyone – rich and poor, unknown and famous.  Filipino president Corazon Aquino, American actor John Wayne, and Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman all died of cancer.

“People in urban areas have higher risk of getting cancer,” the PCSI informs.  “Whether or not there are fewer cases in rural areas is hard to tell.  Generally, cancer cases in remote barrios are not reported.”

In the Philippines, the PCSI says 80% of all cancers can be attributed to environmental influences, particularly those related to lifestyle practices, especially eating.  “About one-third of all cancer deaths may be related to what we eat,” it points out.

As such, the PCSI recommends eating a lot of high-fiber foods like fruits, whole grains and vegetables.  “Fiber helps get rid of a lot of toxins and carcinogens from the body because it helps a person digests food and eliminates waste better,” the cancer society explains.  Good sources of fiber foods are corn, rice, peas, sweet potato, gabi, kangkong, mangoes, and tomatoes.