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Cancer – The Dreaded Disease

Dr Krupali Rathod Tappoo is an Australian qualified general practitioner, a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Medical co-ordinator for Fiji based NGO – Sai
09 Feb 2018 11:00
Cancer – The Dreaded  Disease

Dr Krupali Rathod Tappoo is an Australian qualified general practitioner, a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Medical co-ordinator for Fiji based NGO – Sai Prema Foundation. Dr Krupali is based at TappooCity Medical Centre in TappooCity Suva and has a special interest in Women and Children’s Health.

World Cancer Day was celebrated on the 4th of February under the tagline

We can. I can. World Cancer Day 2016-2018 aimed to explore how everyone as a collective or as individuals can do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer.

Cancer affects people in different ways and everyone has the power to take various actions to reduce the impact on individuals, families and communities.

Cancer is now responsible for almost one in six deaths globally with almost every family being touched by cancer in one way or another.

The World Health Organization highlights that cancer no longer needs to be a death sentence, as the capacity exists to reduce the burden and improve the survival and quality of life of people living with the disease.

Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Non-communicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention states: “All countries can do more to prevent and treat cancer. We know the main causes.

Acting upon them will avoid that many cases occurring in the first place.  By strengthening the health system response, we can also ensure earlier diagnosis and better access to affordable treatment by qualified personnel, thereby saving millions of lives.”


What is cancer?

Cancer is a group of disease involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.

In contrast, benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. It is known that over 100 types of cancers can affect human beings (Wikipedia).


Possible signs and symptoms include:

  1. A lump in any part of the body
  2. Abnormal bleeding from any orifice
  3. Prolonged cough
  4. Unexplained weight loss
  5. Change in bowel habits.


While these symptoms may indicate cancer, there are many other diseases that cause similar symptoms and warrant a consultation with a doctor.


What causes cancer?

  • Tobacco use causes about 22 per cent of cancer deaths.
  • Another 10 per cent are due to obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity and excessive consumption of alcohol.
  • Other factors include certain infections, exposure to ionizing radiation and environmental pollutants.
  • In the developing world such as Fiji and the Pacific Islands, almost 20 per cent of cancers are due to infections such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C which are blood borne viruses and the Human Papilloma virus which causes cervical cancer and penile cancer
  • About 5-10% of cancers are due to inherited genetic defects from a person’s parents.


What can we as individuals do to prevent cancer?

  • Stop smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Not drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Eating more vegetables, fruits and whole-grains
  • Getting vaccinated against certain diseases such as hepatitis B, HPV
  • Reducing the consumption of processed and red meat
  • Avoiding too much sunlight exposure
  • For women having a pap smear every 2 years reduces the risk of cervical cancer by picking up early changes in the cells prior to cancerous changes occurring
  • For people over the age of 50, having a stool test, which looks for signs of blood in the stool is a good screening test for colorectal cancer. If this screening test is positive then further investigation with a colonoscopy is usually required.
  • For women over the age of 50, having two yearly mammograms can allow early detection of breast cancer although currently the benefits of screening are controversial.


What can we as a nation do to prevent cancer?

In May 2017 member states of the United Nations came together to prioritise actions to ensure cancer care for all.

The World Health Assembly resolution was “Cancer Prevention and Control in the context of an integrated approach lays out a clear road map to realise the potential for prevention, early diagnosis, prompt treatment and palliative care for people with cancer.

Many governments throughout the world (including Fiji) are taking action on the recommendations.

This includes:

  • Imposing higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol
  • Promoting healthy diets and physical activity
  • Advocating for access to HPV vaccine

If these policies are well implemented, about 30-50 per cent of cancers can be prevented.

A lot of work is still required in early detection and treatment of cancers as this is the only way we can reduce death and disability fromcancer.

This will continue to be a challenge in the years ahead especially for developing countries where there are many constraints both financially and with regards to personnel.

Let’s not lose hope in the fight against cancer. Whatever you choose to do We can. I can make a difference to the fight against cancer.

Till we meet next week, live, love, laugh and enjoy the small things in life.

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