Lifestyle factors contributing to cancer

Doctor Chatty Lisoma, a medical officer in the health ministry’s cancer prevention programme, encourages people to have regular medical check-ups and seek medical attention as soon as possible when they experience any abnormality in their body.

She emphasises the importance of early detection and timely intervention in combating cancer.

“I can’t state the exact signs and symptoms people should look out for that may indicate the presence of cancer, since people may experience various symptoms according to the type or area of the cancer,” Lisoma says.

Some symptoms are specific for a specific cancer and some are not, she adds.

For instance, someone with brain cancer may experience severe headaches, confusion/loss of consciousness and other symptoms, while a patient diagnosed with lung cancer may present with hemoptysis (coughing blood), shortness of breath, and patients with prostate cancer may present with urinary retention and hematuria (urinating blood), Lisoma says.

An abnormal proliferation of any of the different kinds of cells in the body is called cancer.

Cancers have causes and each type of cancer is associated with risky behaviours. There are many different theories on the causes of cancers, she says, highlighting some of the identifiable causes and potential preventable factors:

Smoking causes more than 30% of cancer cases.

Excess weight and obesity cause about 20% of cancer cases

Diet and lack of exercise each cause 5% of cancer cases

Occupation choices, long hours and many years of working conditions that expose one to chemicals that can affect one’s health cause 5% of cancer cases.

Viruses contracted through sexually transmitted infections can cause cervical cancer.

The Epstein-Barr virus that causes lymphoma, can cause about 5% of cancer cases.

Family history: Genetic factors are incriminated in 5% of cancer cases

Alcohol, 3%, ultra violet (UV) and ionising radiation, 2%

Prescription drugs, 1%

Reproductive factors, 3%

Pollution, 2% and unknown causes, 11%.

Apart from the most common types of cancers like breast and prostate cancer, which are detected through screening and manual examinations, other types of cancer can be detected in the body through a clinical examination when the doctor may suspect a cancer while examining a patient, Lisoma says.

“A sample of cells are taken for testing in the laboratory.

This process is called biopsy. There are also imaging tests used in diagnosing cancer. This includes CT scan, bone scan, MRI, Ultrasound, X-ray and PET scan, she says.

Lisoma further says all screening diagnostic methods are effective at different levels, depending on the stage of the cancer.

Cancers are associated with risky lifestyle behaviours and people have a role to play to reduce their risk of developing cancer, says Lisoma.

They should modify their lifestyle by, for instance, stopping smoking, reducing weight, reducing their consumption of alcohol, eating healthy, exercising on a regular basis, avoiding or limiting their exposure to UV or ionising radiation and air pollution.

Lisoma says genetics and family history also have an influence on people’s possibility of developing cancer.

“When there are some alterations in the DNA, cells become neoplasic, the mutated cells transmit their characters to the next progeny of cells. Many physical (e.g radiation) and chemical agents causing cancer bring about mutation in the host cells,” she says.

Treatment options are available for those already diagnosed with cancer depending on the stage of the cancer.

In general, early cancer stages can be treated with surgery by removing the tumour/ tissues/organs affected; quite advanced cancer cases can be managed with radiation therapy; for more advanced cancer cases, chemotherapy and/or palliative care, or combined treatment.

Factors that determine the most appropriate course of action are the stage of the disease, she says.

Lisoma adds that early detection in improving cancer outcomes is important and as it is commonly said, “the early the better”. The outcome of patients diagnosed with cancer is closely associated with the stage of cancer. The earlier the stage, the better the outcome.

“The first step is awareness. People need to have proper knowledge on how cancers arise, then they will be able to seek for screening. Most of the cancers are caused by identifiable and potential preventable factors. Individuals should know about them and take appropriate action.

“For those diagnosed with cancer, I would say, there are treatment options depending on the stage. I would encourage them to remain positive,” Lisoma says.

Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN) chief executive Rolf Hansen, last month during the launch of Globocan data on cancer, said prostate cancer is now the leading cancer in Namibia.

“This data helps to create awareness, educate and promotes early detection that is done through screening programmes nationwide and that involves all stakeholders (public and private).

“We call for the decentralisation of critical cancer care in Namibia, as well as access to oncology services in other regions of the country outside of Khomas,” said Hansen.

“CAN is grateful to the Ministry of Health and Social Services that there is access to cancer care for especially state patients.

However, the centralised approach to oncology services is no longer practical and a decentralised approach is a golden benchmark to aspire to.

“We especially need quality cancer care for state and financially vulnerable Namibians in the north and at the coast, where the most, and third most populated communities reside. We need serious interventions for cancer in Namibia,” said Hansen.

Former first lady Monica Geingos has highlighted the need for action to address rising cases of cancer in Namibia.

Geingos was speaking two weeks ago during the state memorial service of her husband, the late president Hage Geingob, who died due to cancer just a month after being diagnosed.

Stay informed with The Namibian – your source for credible journalism. Get in-depth reporting and opinions for only N$85 a month. Invest in journalism, invest in democracy –
Subscribe Now!

Latest News