By Sharon Jane Akinyemi
One of the most devastating pronouncements a patient can hear from a doctor is, “I’m sorry, but you have cancer.” This dreaded disease has gradually crept into our society. Many studies from different geographical zones in Nigeria have reported increasing prevalence. Kano (north-west), Zaria (north-east) Benin (south south), and Lagos (south-west) showed Prostate Cancer prevalence as 16.5%, 9.2%, 7.13%, and 9.92%, respectively, of male cancers.
The highest mortality from Prostate Cancer was also reported in most of these studies with recent preliminary data from a five-year cohort study revealing that 29 out of 128 cases of Prostate Cancer who presented at the FMCA Abeokuta with advanced disease were all dead within two years. This is according to recent studies conducted by Akinremi, Adeniyi, Olutunde, Oduniyi and reported in Cancer Epidemiology.
In November 2012, Dr Abia Nzelu , Lagos State coordinator of the National Cancer Prevention Programme (NCPP), said cancer remained the number one killer of mankind, adding that it killed more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis did. According to him, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had predicted that by 2030, there would be more than 21 million new cases of cancer, with 13 million cancer deaths every year.
He disclosed that a recent free cancer screening exercise carried out by NCPP, as part of the International Cancer Awareness Month (ICAM) 2012 in Mushin Local Government Area of Lagos State revealed that four out of 100 women screened were positive for cervical cancer, while 14 in 100 women had breast pathologies.
Is there an answer for this epidemic? You can decide for your self after careful consideration of the fact on ground.To find the answer we must ask more questions: What causes cancer? At this point no one knows for sure. But more and more evidence is pointing to ENVIRONMENTAL AGENTS that cause cell abnormalities, cells that are not strong to withstand today’s onslaught of carcinogens. Cause and effect are factored into the equation. Smokers or people who work around asbestos frequently develop lung cancer. Sun worshippers reap skin damage and the accompanying malignancies.
Alcohol abusers are diagnosed more often with mouth, throat and liver cancers. There is now confirmation that a high fat low-fibre diet is influential in the development of colon, breast, prostate and other cancers. Some researchers fear that dietary influence is even greater. How can nutrition play such an important role in anti-cancer fight? Is it the adopted, refined artificial diets that have replaced the typical rich Nigerian food? Can this be blamed for the many life-threatening conditions on the nation’s population?
Cancer begins when cells duplicate themselves uncontrollably. Cell reproduction is not an abnormal occurrence in the body. Our bodies were ingeniously programmed to create more cells for the healing of injuries. You have observed new skin growing over a cut in your hand. When healing is complete the cell reproduction stops. Not so in cancer cells. Something causes the reproduction mechanism to go crazy, out of control. Cells reproduce , and if unchecked, continue to grow, creating tumours (or excessive white counts in malignancies of the blood). These cancerous cells can spread to other parts of the body where they continue their uncontrolled growth.
When this abnormal overgrowth interferes with the body’s ability to function properly, illness or death result. Many scientists believe that free radicals damage is the major factor in cancer. Free radicals are atoms containing one unpaired electron. Another atom or molecule can then pair with this atom, creating a chemical reaction that causes damage (sometimes irreversible) at the cell level. Damage to many cells cause you to get sick. The normal body incurs some free radicals on a small scale. For instance, free radicals are released during digestion and assimilation of food. But a healthy, normal body neutralises any damage done. Excessive free radicals damage cells to the point of illness. A diet high in fat creates more free radicals. Even worse is the practice of cooking fat at high temperature (think of all the fried fast foods Nigerians consume) More and more research is pointing towards FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES AS THE ANSWER TO CANCER.
Studies have found that common cancers are reduced by 50% in countries where about a pound(0.5kg) of fruits are eaten a day. Also in several studies done by C.H. Barrows Jr, and G.C. Kokonen (recorded in Nutritional Approach to Ageing Research), the incidence of breast cancer was knocked down to zero by eating a high- nutrition, low calorie diet like the one recommended in Body Confidence Diet Plan. Cancer specialist Mitchell Gaynor, MD., stated in a Newsweek article that eating the right foods is as specific to stopping cancer before it starts as wearing a seat belt is to lowering your risk of fatal automobile accident.
Proper diet negates free radicals and strengthens the body. This Eating programme must be full of antioxidants, a group of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that protect the body and heal it of free radical damage. Here are some common foods that are rich in antioxidants: garlic, onions, Green tea, wheat germ, bran, fresh tomatoes, fish, cabbage, leafy green vegetables, carrots, oranges, sweet potato, soy beans, nonfat dry milk. Research confirms that fruits and vegetables are most important in preventing and fighting cancer. In addition the role of exercise in anti-cancer fight cannot be over-emphasised. According to Mercola (2012), if you are like most people, when you think of reducing your risk of cancer, exercise probably isn’t at the top of your list. However, there is compelling evidence that exercise cannot only help slash your risk of cancer, but can also help cancer patients get well sooner, and help prevent cancer recurrence. Research has also shown it may help minimize the side effects of conventional cancer treatment.
Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles; such movement results in an expenditure of energy. Physical activity is a critical component of energy balance, a term used to describe how weight, diet, and physical activity influence health, including cancer risk. Researchers have established that regular physical activity can improve health by helping to control weight, maintaining healthy bones, muscles, and joints, reducing the risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes, promoting psychological well-being, reducing the risk of death from heart disease, reducing the risk of premature death. In addition to these health benefits, researchers are learning that physical activity can also affect the risk of cancer. There is convincing evidence that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cancers of the colon and breast. Several studies also have reported links between physical activity and a reduced risk of cancers of the prostate, lung, and lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer). Despite these health benefits, recent studies have shown that more than 50 percent of Nigerians do not engage in enough regular physical activity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults “engage in moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes on five or more days of the week,” or “engage in vigorous-intensity physical activity for at least 20 minutes on three or more days of the week. Colorectal cancer has been one of the most extensively studied cancers in relation to physical activity, with more than 50 studies examining this association.
Many studies around the world have consistently found that adults who increase their physical activity, either in intensity, duration, or frequency, can reduce their risk of developing colon cancer by 30 to 40 percent relative to those who are sedentary regardless of body mass index (BMI), with the greatest risk reduction seen among those who are most active.The magnitude of the protective effect appears greatest with high-intensity activity, although the optimal levels and duration of exercise are still difficult to determine due to differences between studies, making comparisons difficult. It is estimated that 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day is needed to protect against colon cancer. It is not yet clear at this time whether physical activity has a protective effect for rectal cancer, adenomas, or polyp recurrence.
Physical activity most likely influences the development of colon cancer in multiple ways. Physical activity may protect against colon cancer and tumor development through its role in energy balance, hormone metabolism, insulin regulation, and by decreasing the time the colon is exposed to potential carcinogens. Physical activity has also been found to alter a number of inflammatory and immune factors, some of which may influence colon cancer risk.
Most studies indicate that physically active women have a lower risk of developing breast cancer than inactive women; however, the amount of risk reduction achieved through physical activity varies widely (between 20 to 80 percent). Although most evidence suggests that physical activity reduces breast cancer risk in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women high levels of moderate and vigorous physical activity during adolescence may be especially protective. Although a lifetime of regular, vigorous activity is thought to be of greatest benefit, women who increase their physical activity after menopause may also experience a reduced risk compared with inactive women.
A number of studies also suggest that the effect of physical activity may be different across levels of BMI, with the greatest benefit seen in women in the normal weight range (generally a BMI under 25 kg/m-squared) in some studies. Existing evidence shows a decreasing risk of breast cancer as the frequency and duration of physical activity increase. Most studies suggest that 30 to 60 minutes per day of moderate- to high-intensity physical activity is associated with a reduction in breast cancer risk. Researchers have proposed several biological mechanisms to explain the relationship between physical activity and breast cancer development. Physical activity may prevent tumor development by lowering hormone levels, particularly in premenopausal women; lowering levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), improving the immune response; and assisting with weight maintenance to avoid a high body mass and excess body fat.
Surviving cancer through physical activity
Research indicates that physical activity after a diagnosis of breast cancer may be beneficial in improving quality of life, reducing fatigue and assisting with energy balance. Both reduced physical activity and the side effects of treatment have been linked to weight gain after a breast cancer diagnosis. One study found that women who exercised moderately (the equivalent of walking 3 to 5 hours per week at an average pace) after a diagnosis of breast cancer had improved survival rates compared with more sedentary women. The benefit was particularly pronounced in women with hormone responsive tumors).
Another study found that a home-based physical activity programme had a beneficial effect on the fitness and psychological well-being of previously sedentary women who had completed treatment for early-stage through stage II breast cancer. Increasing physical activity may influence insulin and leptin levels and influence breast cancer prognosis. Although there are several promising studies, it is too early to draw any strong conclusions regarding physical activity and breast cancer survival. Two additional studies have suggested a protective association of physical activity after colon cancer diagnosis and survival.
Researchers examined the relationship between levels of physical activity both before and after a diagnosis of colon cancer in two different observational studies. Whereas levels of pre-diagnosis physical activity were not related to survival, participants with higher levels of physical activity post-diagnosis were less likely to have a cancer recurrence and had increased survival. Although these studies suggest protective effects of physical activity, more research is needed to understand what levels of physical activity provide these benefits.
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