Cancer is one of the deadliest ailments yet it unfortunately has no specific cause. Studies indicate that it is usually not possible to know exactly why one person develops cancer and another doesn’t, however, certain risk factors may increase a person’s chances of developing cancer.
Dr Rajab Mugabo, a senior ear, nose and throat (ENT) consultant and cancer surgeon at Oshen King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, explains that for one to really understand how to prevent cancer, they need to acknowledge the major risk factors.
He explains that cancer is an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in any part of the body. This can be on the skin, in the bones, muscles, blood, or any other part of the body.
Usually, the body has control over the growth and death of cells but once there is loss of control, this can lead to abnormal growth in the cells to form tumours, he says.
Normal body cells grow and divide over a period of time until they eventually die. But cancer cells continue to grow and divide.
“Tumours are divided into two categories; those that are non-cancerous, called benign, and those that are cancerous, known as malignant. When these cells grow very fast, they have the potential to spread from their primary sites to other parts of the body,” Mugabo says.
He notes that in Rwanda, as it is with any other part of the world, there are five leading types of cancer, and these include breast, cervix, prostate, lung and liver cancers.
“For women, it is usually breast and cervix cancers, whereas men are mostly affected by prostate and liver cancer,” Mugabo says.
Among the risk factors of cancer, Mugabo says there are those that can be prevented and those that can’t be prevented, especially when they are associated with the genetic faults of a person.
For example, when a person is born with genetic defects, these may pre-dispose them to cancer and it cannot be controlled. But there are other risk factors that increase the risk of getting cancer that can be avoided.
He mentions an unhealthy diet; this can include over-consumption of processed foods, less consumption of fruits and vegetables, and consumption of high-calorie foods, including refined sugars and fat.
Other factors related to lifestyle can also cause cancer.
“Tobacco use is a big risk factor to cancers of the oral cavities, throat and lungs. Alcohol abuse is also another big risk factor to cancers of the throat, oesophagus and the liver. Lack of exercise is a factor as well, causing cancer mostly associated with obesity,” he says.
Other additional risks factors are chronic infections. These apply to certain cancers, when someone is infected with that virus or bacteria, they don’t leave the body and later affect the make-up of the cells and end up causing cancer. There are also environmental causes and occupational risk factors, Mugabo says.
HOW CAN CANCER BE PREVENTED?
Studies indicate a number of ways cancer may be prevented, however, the most important aspect to understand is that chances of developing cancer are affected by the lifestyle choices one makes.
Cancer prevention involves taking active measures to decrease the occurrence of cancer and mortality. This depends on individual efforts to improve lifestyle and seeking other preventative measures, such as screening, among other ways.
Mugabo reveals that there are two types of preventions, like the primary prevention which includes change of lifestyle. “People should stop smoking, stop abusing alcohol, exercise more and eat healthy, try to avoid processed food, eat more greens and fruits,” he says.
The second type of prevention is the secondary prevention which includes screenings and routine check-ups.
“Rwanda has been recently recognised as the leading country in Africa to demonstrate consistent and efficient prevention measures for cancer, such as regular exercise and vaccination against infections that cause cancer. We also advocate for early screening in order to pick up cancers at very early stages,” Mugabo says.
“We encourage people to come to Oshen King Faisal for general check-up and vaccination against infections that cause cancer. Vaccinations for certain diseases such as Hepatitis B and Human papilloma virus are available. Routine check-ups are also highly recommended. Women can do self-examination and screening for breast cancer and men above 40 should start check-ups for prostate cancer,” the surgeon advises.