Cancer detected early can be treated more effectively and better still, there are strategies to prevent the disease. Awareness, education, screening programmes and best practise treatment can all reduce the risk of dying from cancer was the message from experts at Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) on World Cancer Day, celebrated globally on February 4.
Each year, the world over, cancer kills more people than tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria all put together. The World Health Organization estimates that if immediate action is not taken, the global number of deaths from cancer will increase by 80 per cent by 2030, with most occurring in low and middle-income countries such as Pakistan. Awareness could help people recognise the early signs of cancer and the need to seek medical attention. The symptoms, according to Dr Nadeem Abbasi, consultant radiation oncologist, AKUH, may include persistent fatigue, unintentional weight-loss, pain, fever, persistent indigestion and cough. In Pakistan, people often seek medical advice when the disease is so far advanced that it is difficult to treat; help sought earlier would allow people more treatment options and reduce the risk of dying.One of the most common cancers in Pakistan is head and neck cancer – that arises in the nose, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat, or voice box – it is found mostly in adult men. In Karachi, oral cancer is the second most prevalent cancer among both men and women. Dr Shabbir Akhtar, consultant ENT surgeon, AKUH explains that this high rate is due to cigarette smoking and tobacco and paan use. As these cancers are often not detected till they are far advanced treatment becomes difficult and results are poor.
For women, breast cancer is the most common of cancers in Pakistan. One in every nine Pakistani women is likely to suffer from breast cancer which is one of the highest incidence rates in Asia. This coupled with many women being diagnosed at a very late stage in the disease means that many women are still dying from breast cancer. Dr Munira Moosajee, consultant haematologist and oncologist, AKUH points out increased awareness of breast cancer, early detection through monthly self-examination, regular mammography tests, and treatment advances means that more and more women are surviving. Mammography is an important tool that can help detect lumps in the breast much before they can be felt and the American College of Radiology recommends that women aged 40 and above should get mammograms every one to two years.
Gynaecological cancers, of the ovary and uterus, can be caught through screening programmes such as a pap smear for cervical cancer. Lifestyle changes can also reduce the risk of such cancers and Dr Aliya Aziz, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, AKUH mentions that regular exercise and a diet low in saturated fats are two factors that can help. Exercise protects against cancer of the ovaries, the uterus and breast cancer that occurs after menopause. Low fat diets are advisable as women who are obese have a 60 per cent higher risk of dying from cancer as compared to women of normal weight.
The Aga Khan University Hospital will be holding a seminar on February 7 to create awareness about the disease and how people can protect themselves.
Fabeha Pervez, Media Executive, Department of Public Affairs, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, Karachi, on +92 21 3486 2925 or firstname.lastname@example.org