Minimising the risk of cancer

EVERY year, Feb 4 is observed as World Cancer Day to promote awareness about cancer and to highlight the importance of its prevention, early detection and treatment. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) data, globally, 19,292,789 new cases of cancer were registered in 2020, and 9,958,133 patients lost their lives to the disease.

Despite advances in the medical sciences, cancer kills a substantial number of people each year – nearly equivalent to Sweden’s whole population, more than 10 million people. Globally, cancer is the second leading cause of death. Malaysia is a relatively small country. However, 48,639 new cases of cancer and 29,530 cancer-mediated deaths were reported from Malaysia in 2020.

There are various types of cancer. Malignant growth can start in almost any tissue or organ of the body and spread to other organs. Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach, and liver cancer are the most common types of cancer in males, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervical, and thyroid cancer are the most common among women.

Cancer causes tremendous physical, financial and emotional stress on individuals, their families, and health systems too. It is estimated that the annual economic cost of the disease is more than US$1.2tril (RM4.9tril), excluding the indirect expenses of families of cancer patients.

There are several challenges that both developed and developing countries face in dealing with this disease, such as how to manage the burden of cancer, how to make quality diagnoses and treatment accessible in time, and, as prevention is always better than a cure, how to prevent cancer.

We should be able to prevent 30% to 50% of cancer-mediated deaths by mitigating risks and implementing currently available evidence-based prevention approaches. Early detection of cancer and effective management of patients can help to reduce the cancer burden. Promotion of preventive measures and elevation of awareness levels among people will also help minimise the burden.

The WHO suggests that mitigation of risk factors will help prevent cancer. Mitigation includes eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables; exercising regularly; avoiding tobacco use, including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco; limiting alcohol use; avoiding air pollution and indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels; maintaining a healthy weight; practising safe sex; getting vaccinated against hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus (HPV); reducing exposure to ultraviolet radiation and ionising radiation; and monitoring health on a regular basis. Some chronic infections are known to increase cancer risk, and people in developing countries are more likely to develop cancer through chronic diseases.

Early diagnosis of cancer increases the probability of surviving and helps minimise treatment expenses as well as suffering. Medicines, surgery and radiotherapy alone or in combination can be used in the treatment of cancer.

World Cancer Day is a reminder to make yourself and your community more aware about cancer and encourage its prevention, early detection and treatment.


AIMST (Asian Institute of Medicine, Science and Technology) University, Malaysia

Note: The writer is a senior associate professor of Biotechnology at the Faculty of Applied Sciences, AIMST University.

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letters , disease , medical , health , World Cancer Day


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