28 February 2012

Combating Cancer

Why normal cells run amok to form 100 types of cancer, nobody knows. The problem is, one in every one thousand Filipinos comes down with it.
Worse, more people contract the disease as they age and indulge in cancer-causing habits - smoking, physical inactivity and Westernized diets. In 2010 alone, at least 82,500 Filipinos were newly afflicted with cancer.
Among women, cancer mostly attacks the breast, cervix, uterus and lungs. For men, it’s lungs, liver, colon, rectum and prostate.

Cancer is the third leading cause of death in the country, after heart disease and strokes. Lung cancer accounted for almost 9,200 of the nearly 52,000 deaths from the disease in 2010, followed by cancers of the liver, with 7,000 and  breast, with 4,400.
Worldwide, at least 12.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year and more than 7.5 million die of the disease according to 2011 World Health Organisation (WHO) figures.
Now, more than ever, Filipinos should be informed to curb the disease.
The best way to combat the silent killer is to prevent it. Hence, “Every day is cancer consciousness day for us,” according to Dr. Felycette Gay Lapus,  President of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO).
People should reduce their exposure to carcinogens, stressed the society’s Vice President Dr. Ellie May Villegas. That means no smoking, no moldy foods or animal fats, no pesticides, nitrites, excess salt or preservative in foods, among other things. Engaging in clean sex and getting vaccinations also help.
Unfortunately, workers in aluminium, plastic and coal manufacturing are more exposed to carcinogens. Same holds true for shoemakers and repairers inhaling benzene and leather dust, furniture and cabinet makers breathing in hardwood dust, road workers handling coal tars and pitch, painters using solvents, beauticians as well as clients using hair-straightening products with formaldehyde. Workers exposed to asbestos have a five-fold risk of getting lung cancer.
Still, early detection gives people better chances to recover, PSMO members pointed out.
Pap smears and acetic acid wash detect cervical cancer while mammograms and annual breast exams do the same for breast cancer. Stool blood tests and colonoscopy alert one to colon cancer. People at high risk for stomach and gastric cancers, such as those with family history of the disease, should have endoscopy.
For those already diagnosed with the disease, advances in surgery, drugs, radiation therapy, side-effect management and multi-disciplinary approaches have improved treatment.
“Cancer deaths in the U.S.A. have dropped by 18% since the 1990s, reversing decades of increases. Hopefully the Philippines will follow suit,” Dr. Villegas maintained.
Lung, liver and cervix cancers are preventable. Breast and colon-rectal cancers can be cured if they are detected early.
Still, some, like pancreatic cancers are insidious. To complicate matters, cancer is not easy to identify. Tests abound with varying degrees of claimed accuracy, from hormone tests to blood marker tests, but biopsy of the tumor mass is the most reliable because it allows doctors to examine tissues at the cellular level, advised Dr. Dennis Ramon Tudtud, former PSMO President.
Once a person is diagnosed with cancer, he requires an army of surgical oncologists, radiotherapists and medical oncologists collaborating with pain specialists, nurses, nutritionists, psychiatrists plus support groups among family and friends, other cancer survivors, religious and government organizations.
In the advanced stage, “We don’t promise cure,” Dr. Marina A. Chua-Tan warned. “We don’t say they are cured until they have been free of cancer for five straight years.”
Sometimes, miracles happen. Former professional road racing cyclist, Lance Armstrong’s Stage 4 testicular cancer spread to his lungs and brain but he recovered after surgery and chemotherapy.
At the very least, doctors manage a terminal patient’s pain and ease their passing, if only the government will allow them to use more palliative drugs like morphine. “We are not drug abusers or pushers. We just want to make it easy for end-of-life patients,” the PSMO doctors underscored.




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