Saturday, February 4, 2023 was World Cancer Day. Every year on February 4, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and other organisation (including World Cancer Research Fund), charities, policymakers, and individuals come together to mark World Cancer Day. The theme for this year is “Close the care gap: Uniting our voices and taking action.”
As UICC perfectly puts it: “World Cancer Day aims to prevent millions of deaths each year by raising awareness and education about cancer, and pressing governments and individuals across the world to take action against the disease.”
Cancer has a staggering death-toll rate — every year, 9.6 million people die from cancer. About one-third of common cancers are preventable and treatable. Cancer is the second most common cause of death around the world. Seventy per cent of deaths by cancer occur in lower-income countries.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020. The most common in 2020 (in terms of new cases of cancer) were: breast (2.26 million cases); lung (2.21 million cases); colon and rectum (1.93 million cases); prostate (1.41 million cases); skin (non-melanoma) (1.20 million cases); and stomach (1.09 million cases).
The most common causes of cancer death in 2020 were: lung (1.80 million deaths); colon and rectum (916 000 deaths); liver (830 000 deaths); stomach (769 000 deaths); and breast (685 000 deaths). Each year, approximately 400 000 children develop cancer. The most common cancers vary between countries. Cervical cancer is the most common in 23 countries.
There is a lot that can be done at an individual, community, and policy level with the right strategies for cancer prevention. Taking the time to understand what you, your family, and your community can do to make a difference can have a huge impact on just one person.
For many cancers, there are warning signs and symptoms and the benefits of early detection are indisputable. As busy as you may be, taking time to get that check-up and speak with your health care provider can help create awareness and peace of mind. While cancer can be a difficult topic to address, particularly in some cultures and settings, dealing with the disease openly can improve outcomes at an individual, community, and policy level. Knowing where to go for help and being part of a larger support network can help everyone feel part of the solution.
In relation to the theme “Close the care gap: Uniting our voices and taking action”, I saw this message from the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti- This year’s campaign summons like-minded people to be united as we build stronger alliances and new innovative collaborations in the fight against cancer. Cancer is a public health issue of major concern. The numbers are stark. Approximately 1.1 million new cancer cases occur each year in Africa, with about 700,000 deaths. Data estimates show a considerable increase in cancer mortality to nearly one million deaths per year by 2030, without urgent and bold interventions.
We should recall that the most common cancers in adults include breast (16.5 per cent), cervical (13.1 per cent), prostate (9.4 per cent), Colo-rectal (six per cent), and liver (4.6 per cent) cancers, contributing to nearly half of the new cancer cases. With significant data challenges, childhood cancer incidence in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at 56.3 per million population. Current projections show that Africa will account for nearly 50 per cent of the global childhood cancer burden by 2050.
The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) understands the role that diet, nutrition, physical activity and body weight have upon cancer incidence; These areas are therefore of much interest to the work of the WCRF. A new area of investigation by the WCRF is to investigate cancers by their sub types rather than as a single disease.
As diagnosis and treatment for cancer continues to improve, the number of individuals living with cancer increases. The Global Cancer Update Programme explores how diet, nutrition, physical activity and body weight impact long-term health following a cancer diagnosis. The WCRF will use this information, to produce Cancer Prevention Recommendations that are tailored for people living with and beyond cancer.
The WCRF has identified overweight and obesity as key risk factor for numerous cancers. This area of research will ensure that we understand the modifiable (sometimes referred to as lifestyle) risk factors for obesity. This knowledge can then feed into our incidence research seeking to understand the links between obesity and cancer incidence and mortality.
Parts of the ensuing information are extracts from a paper by Aoun et al. The Influence of the Gut Microbiome on Obesity in Adults and the Role of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics for Weight Loss. Prev Nutr Food Sci. 2020 Jun 30; 25(2): 113–123.
Obesity is linked to the prevalence of several chronic diseases are growing worldwide. Although several methods for treating excessive weight gain are used, obesity remains a major public health problem, which requires novel nutritional and/or medical solutions.
Being overweight, body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 30 kg/m2] or obese (BMI higher than 30 kg/m2), and the related comorbidities (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer) are leading causes of death. A high-calorie diet is a causal factor for obesity and may induce changes in the function of the gut microbiome’. In addition to nutritional, lifestyle and genetic factors, obesity is linked to dysbiosis (imbalance) of the gut microbiota which affects metabolic function and energy homeostasis.
Dietary factors regulate the role and structure of the microbiota. Microbes in the human intestines impact the absorption, breakdown, and storage of nutrients, and have potential consequences on the body’s physiology. Gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut microbiota composition) due to dietary or environmental changes can promote overgrowth of pathogenic organisms that cause chronic inflammation, thereby playing a major role in the pathology of chronic metabolic, intestinal diseases and cancer. In contrast, a healthy balance of intestinal microbiota plays a role in preventing or alleviating obesity and metabolic diseases and cancer. Increases in certain beneficial bacterial species and decreases in other damaging species therefore impact the health and the wellbeing of the body.
Polyphenol-rich cocoa is a low-calorie food, in addition to other benefits, it improves gut health. Regular intake of polyphenol-rich cocoa reduces cancer risk.
The writer is the Chief Pharmacist, Cocoa Clinic.
By Dr. Edward O. Amporful