Cancer, also known as malignant neoplasm and the most feared word and disease in the world, is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. It can also affect nearby parts of the body and more distant parts through the lymphatic system or the blood stream.
There are over 200 different types of cancers that affect humans. The disease has been around as long as mankind but the disease exploded in the second half of the 20th Century.
In 2007, cancer caused about 13 per cent of all human deaths worldwide (7.9 million). This disease that can affect people of all ages does not just appear out of nowhere, it has definite causes that can be corrected if the body has enough time, and if actions are taken to change the body’s internal environment to one that creates health while at the same time attacking cancerous cells and tumour by exploiting their weaknesses.
Essentially, cancer occurs as a result of excessive amount of toxin and pollutants people are exposed to, obesity, tobacco use, lack of physical activity, high stress lifestyles that zap the immune system, poor quality junk food that are full of pesticides, irradiated and genetically modified. Other causes include electromagnetic lights and everything we were not exposed to 200 years ago.
All these weaken the immune system and change the body’s internal environment to one that promotes cancer growth. While cancer can affect people of all ages, and a few types of cancers are more common in children, the risk of developing cancer generally increases with age.
Malignant neoplasm or cancer is a group of different diseases involving irregulated cell growth which often makes it to imitate other diseases. Often times, cancer patients have been treated for other diseases for so long leading to the metastases of the disease which eventually kills the patient. An example that readily comes to mind is the case of the late radical lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who was diagnosed with pneumonia and eventually died of lung cancer.
Cancer can affect all the organs of the body. If it affects the lungs, it manifests in form of cough or pneumonia; for oesophageal cancer, it narrows the oesophagus causing painful swallowing anaemia or rectal bleeding. But perhaps the most predominant forms of cancers in Nigeria are those affecting the breast and the cervix also known as cervical cancer.
The incidence of breast cancer in Nigeria is increasing just like in other developing countries and those advanced countries that used to have a low incidence. Several factors are responsible for this development, but the most important are the empowerment of women which is increasing their ability to make independent decisions about their health care, like the ability to choose when to start having children and the number to have and westernisation of diet.
It has been observed that women with later age at the outset of their first pregnancies and a higher mean number of children have short term risks of developing cancer due to the stimulatory effects of pregnancy on the epithelial tissues of the breast. The protective effect of pregnancy is seen decades after the pregnancy, that is often after the age of 40 years and in a country with low life expectancy, the women would have developed the disease before the pro- carcinogenic effect of pregnancy can be felt.
On the other hand, cervical cancer, which is the third most common type of cancer, starts in the cells on the surface of the cervix usually very slowly. There are two types of cells on the cervix’s surface namely, the squamous and columnar cells, but usually most cervical cancers are from squamous cells. It starts as a precancerous condition called dysplasia which can only be detected through a diagnostic process called Pap smear. It usually takes years for cancerous changes to turn into cervical cancer. Most women diagnosed with this condition have not had regular pap smears or they have not followed up on abnormal test results. Dysplasia is most often seen in women ages 25-35, although it can develop at any age.
Cervical dysplasia is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus [HPV], spread through sexual intercourse and those at the risk of developing the condition include: Women having sex before the age of 18; giving birth before age 16; having multiple sexual partners; smokers and using medication that suppresses the immune system.
Determined to stamp out cervical cancer, the Federal Government through the Director of Hospital Services in the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Patience Osinubi, during a press briefing to mark the 2013 World’s Cancer Day rolled out plans to eliminate the disease. These, she said, will be in the form of deployment of cancer treatment trucks in hospitals nationwide and upgrading of six federal tertiary hospitals for the treatment of cancer as comprehensive centres with one for each geopolitical zone.
Generally, initial swelling in cancer is usually painless although localised pain may occur in advanced cancer. Other symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, unexplained anaemia, and pyrexia of unknown origin. In diagnosing cancer, a biopsy, that is, taking a specimen of the lump or swelling for examination, is considered essential for the proper identification of the disease. Occasionally, a metastatic lump or pathological lymph node is found (in the neck) for which primary tumour cannot be found.
Cancer is a curable disease that should not be allowed to terminate life, but it should be detected on time. Chemotherapy (drugs) and radiotherapy are used as a first line radical therapy in a number of malignancies where disease is clearly incurable aiming at improving the quality of and prolonging life. Surgeries are used to remove tumours entirely in situations where there are some degrees of certainties that the tumours can in fact be removed
Chemotherapy works by killing all cells throughout the body that multiply and divide rapidly which include cancer cells and other rapidly multiplying and dividing cells that the body needs. These include bone marrow which produces blood, digestive and reproductive system, and hair follicles etc. leading to anaemia, loss of weight and hair loss.
Therefore, as the world observes, “The World Cancer Day” on February 4, 2013 everyone has to be involved in the campaign for the reduction of the cancer epidemic all over the world. The attention should shift towards exploring alternative means of tackling the disease. Herbal remedies should be used to combat the disease.
In Nigeria, researchers have found out that herbal remedies should be used to combat the disease. These plant species include : African pepper (xylopia aethopical), bitter kola (Garcinca kola), Sausage tree (kigelia Africana), Anthocleista dialonensis (sapo in Yoruba, Kwara in Hausa, Okpokolo in Igbo), citrus species (orange, grapefruit, tangerine, lime and lemon), Allium Species (garlic, onion, shallot).
In essence, cancer patients do not have to avoid chemotherapy or radiotherapy to benefit from natural products and supplements. Nutritional supplements are quite useful when used in conjunction with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. The supplements work to support the body so that radiation and chemotherapy will actually work better resulting in stronger immune system which will better able to keep cancer from developing again.
Since early detection is antidote to curing the disease, Government at all levels should provide adequate equipment for diagnosing cancer, provide enlightenment and funds necessary for this purpose. When the right actions are taken, even aggressive, tough cancer can be defeated.