By Ifeanyi Nwoko
Cancer is a dreaded disease that has claimed the lives of presidents, captains of industries and wealthy individuals across the globe.
It has also claimed the lives of renowned medics, the latest victim in the country being Prof. Dora Akunyili, former Director General of National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Experts say, as it is not completely possible to prevent all forms of cancer, the best alternative is early detection.
Dr Festus Igbinoba, Chief Consultant, Radiation Oncology, National Hospital Abuja, who shared the sentiment, emphasised that the best war against cancer is early detection.
“Once cancer has grown to a point and has left the area, there is nothing you can do, everything you are doing is just to buy time,” he said.
Igbinoba said that cancer is caused by agents in the environment known as carcinogens.
“When these carcinogens act on the human body, eventually they act on the cells through a process called carcinogenesis.
“These agents act on the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) component of the cell and the cell begins to undergo mutation, when this mutation progresses, it eventually leads to cancer.
“Some may be in form of the chemicals we are exposed to, infections, the food we eat, water we drink, the kind of environment we live in, the kind of work we do, the kind of homes we live in, the kind of air we breathe and even the sun.
“There are also other factors that determine if the cancer would actually come to being: they could be genetic, if you have a genetic predisposition or the protective genes are not working properly, then this cancer can result.
“The process of cancer formation is like a thug of war: a group of people on one side can be the protectors, things that prevent you from having cancer and on the left side you have another group that predisposes you to cancer.
“The protectors could be anti-oxidants, good genetic system, and sound immune system: when all these are working very well, they can help to check the cancer run off process,” he said.
Igbinoba also said that factors like smoking (passive or active, radiation from X-rays, defective genes and alcohol all increase the risk of cancer.
He said that for one to be able to prevent cancer, then one must run away from the carcinogens that cause the cancer
“Cancer is not just one disease, it’s a lot of diseases put together: as many as there are tissues in the body so you can have diverse number of cancers.
“Each one behaves differently and the things that predispose one to those cancers, they can be as diverse as possible.
“If you are asking how one can reduce his chances, it is not a single answer because there are several different things that require different preventive measures.
“To avoid lung cancer, avoid smoking, not just avoiding smoking, stay away from smokers so that you don’t inhale cigarette smoke.
“Alcohol again predisposes to cancer of the mouth and the esophagus: alcohol is also noted for causing liver cancer from cirrhotic liver.
“If you can avoid alcohol and tobacco, you have helped yourself a lot in avoiding many of the cancers,” he said.
Igbinoba said that cancer is too numerous, stressing that the easiest way to deal with cancer is to prevent it or early detection.
“Early detection makes all the difference; there is what is called screenings: even if everything is okay, you can undergo screening, the young woman can self-examine her breast and after the age of 40, a mammogram (Breast X-ray) once in a while.
“If you see a swelling anywhere in your body, don’t just say it would go, go to your doctor and go to a knowledgeable doctor.
“Do not go to the chemist to begin to treat it because once you do that, they may just give you antibiotics but what you are treating may be a cancer in the process.
“By the time you keep swallowing antibiotics the thing begins to grow and one it has grown to a point and has left the area, there is nothing you can do, everything you are doing is just to buy time.