Docbeecee Friday Healthwatch on Cancer #DFH
By Dr Brighton Chireka in memory of my father!
Today is ‘’Wear it Pink Day” , a single day when thousands of amazing people come together in workplaces, schools, homes and communities across the world to wear pink, raise money and show their support for Breast Cancer Now.
It is then appropriate that our #DFH for this week covers cancer. Cancer is non-selective it is everyone’s business . We are all affected me , you and everyone … here is my cancer story!
14 years ago this month I had a call from Zimbabwe that my father had developed yellow eyes. We quickly found him the best doctor in the country. My father was rushed into theatre because he had a mass around his liver and gallbladder. Upon opening his tummy the surgeon found that the mass was so huge that it was not possible to remove it.
Sadly the mass had moved to other parts of my father’s body. The surgeon sadly closed the tummy without doing anything and my father passed on a week after this failed operation. Cause of death was documented as metastatic adenocarcinoma of the gallbladder ( which means cancer of the gallbladder that has spread to other parts of the body).
Unfortunately for me I guess for everyone really at times it doesn’t rain but it literally pours . In April 2013 my wife was diagnosed with aggressive cancer of the breast. It was at this moment I learnt that in life even if you hit rock bottom it is still possible to rise again. I remain thankful to God and the efficiency of the NHS as well as quick presentation to the doctors for the fact that today my wife is alive and well having successfully gone through all the treatments.
I share my experiences as evidence that cancer affects us all so what can we do about it? It is my heartfelt wish that fewer people develop cancer , that more people are successfully treated and that there is high quality care for people going through cancer treatment.
In the beginning
Cancer start in cells and cells are the body’s basic unit of life. Our body is made up of cells which grow and divide in a controlled manner to produce more cells. When cells become old or damaged , they die and are replaced by new ones. Sometimes this orderly process can go wrong such that cells do not die when they should and new cells form when the body does not need them.
These extra cells may form a mass of tissue called tumour . These cancerous cells can invade and destroy surrounding health tissue , including organs. These cells may spread to other areas such as the liver , lung or brain. This process of spreading is known as metastasis and can take several months or years to occur depending on the type of cancer. It is important that cancer is treated before it spreads to other organs as the success of treatment is high before then.
Cancer can affect any part of your body so it is very important to know your body and seek medical help as soon as you notice any changes.
Cancer may not present with any symptoms in its initial stages hence the need to go for regular screening. It goes without saying that screening saves more lives through prevention and earlier diagnosis. This is something that health systems like the NHS must be commended for doing .
I call upon other health systems such the Zimbabwean to scale up its screening services and save more lives. We are all aware that people live increasingly busy lives so we need to make it easier and convenient for people to attend their screening appointments. People should be empowered so that they are able to attend these appointments when and where they prefer.
The following are symptoms that you must not ignore. Having those symptoms does not mean you have cancer. Having them may mean that you have cancer so see your doctor for further assessment . Remember that early presentation results in good outcomes. The chance of cancer going into remission is high if cancer is diagnosed before it has spread.
Do not ignore any lump in your breast .
Any cough for more than 3 weeks must not be ignored .
See your doctor if you are coughing up blood.
See your doctor if you experience any of the following changes lasting weeks : blood in stools, diarrhoea or constipation for several weeks , a feeling of not having fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet, pain in your abdomen lasting several weeks or persistent bloating .
For men do not ignore if you start to have problems passing urine such as failing to start to urinate or urinating more frequently. Sadly men neglect their symptoms and also underplay them when they visit their doctors. This sadly results in men dying five years earlier than women. I call upon men to value their health and not neglect it.
Women see your doctors if you have unexplained vaginal bleeding such as: blood in your urine, bleeding between periods . Some women have not had smears done due to having continuous bleeding from their vagina. This must not be ignored instead one should be referred to a specialist for further investigations as this may be a sign of cancer.
Do not ignore any new skin lesions or moles on your body. See your doctor for reassurance or treatment. Do not ignore old skin lesions that change their shape , colour , size, become itchy or painful or starts to bleed. If worried or concerned about your skin lesion there is no harm to seek medical advice . Better safe than sorry.
See your doctor if you have lost weight over the last few months and cannot explain why.
So what can one do to prevent cancer?
There is enough evidence to show that our chances of developing cancer are affected by the lifestyle choices we make. We can take comfort in the fact that simple lifestyle changes can make a huge difference.
Consider the following five tips!
1- Do not ignore any changes in or on your body and go for regular medical check ups and screening. Early diagnosis of cancer increases the chance of surviving so please do not procrastinate.
2- Stop smoking. 90% of lung cancer cases are related to smoking. We know that stopping smoking greatly cuts the risk of developing cancer and the earlier one stops, the greater the impact.
3- Stop or cut down on alcohol to only 14 units a week. Drinking alcohol is known to increase your risk of some cancers, including:mouth cancer,pharynx and larynx cancer, oesophageal cancer, colorectal cancer in men and breast cancer. Drinking is probably a cause of other cancers such as colorectal cancer in women and liver cancer.
4- Eat a healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and limit processed meats as they increase your chance of certain cancers.
5- Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active as this will lower the risk of getting cancer of the breast , prostate , lung , colon and kidney. To get the best strive to get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity. You can also do a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. As a general goal, include at least 30 minutes of physical activity in your daily routine — and if you can do more, even better.
May I conclude by calling upon governments and policymakers to strengthen their health systems so that they offer cancer services that are safe , timely , effective , efficient , equitable and that gives a positive experience to those that uses them. People should be able to have screening when and where they need it and services should be affordable, accessible , acceptable and adaptable to suit needs of patients. Failure to do this we will continue to lose innocent lives.
Just a reminder that information covered here is of general nature and the purpose of it is to encourage everyone to go and see their doctor for further medical advice and influence your governments to prioritise your health.
In the end when it comes to cancer : Iwe neni tine basa ;Asante Sana