We Can All Contribute to Minimising the Risk of Cancer
World Cancer Day is highlighted internationally on the 4 February annually. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a multi-faceted approach is needed to reduce the risk of cancer, which includes nutrition, physical activity and body composition. Therefore a balanced lifestyle plays a significant role in reducing the risk of cancer.
The Western Cape Department of Health not only advocates by creating awareness and programmes for healthy lifestyles to prevent or reduce the risk of cancer, but also offers extensive support for cancer patients, from early detection to diagnosis.
Treatment can include medication, radiotherapy or surgery. Radiations are done at the cancer treatment centres at the province's central hospitals - Groote Schuur and Tygerberg and George etc. Once a patient is diagnosed with cancer, whether at a day hospital or clinic, they are urgently referred to these specialist centres for cancer treatment.
Some cancer examinations and surgeries are done at secondary hospitals like Karl Bremer, Eben Donges or Paarl hospital, to fast track patient management. At Groote Schuur Hospital and Tygerberg Hospital each cancer case is discussed by a cancer care team including surgeons, clinical oncologists, pathologists and radiologists to make an expert combined decision regarding the management of every individual case. All treatment decisions are based on evidence from international cancer trials and treatment guidelines are followed, on par with standard of care worldwide.
Comprehensive care is offered to all patients. Patients are treated as in- or outpatients, depending on their general health and well-being and where they live.
CANSA, the Cancer Association of South Africa, gives five key behaviour characteristics of a balanced lifestyle, which each of us can practice/live at home to promote health & reduce the risk of getting cancer:
1: Eat Smart
- Eat at least 5 portions of fruit (in season) and vegetables daily.
- Restrict salt as well as sugar and sugar-containing foods and drinks. A new WHO guideline recommends that adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake.
- Make starchy foods that are high in roughage and whole-grains the basis of most meals.
- Eat dairy products and animal protein in moderation.
- Restrict animal and saturated fats.
- Drink plenty of safe, clean drinking water.
- Limit intake of processed and refined foods.
2: Be Physically Active and Maintain a Healthy Weight
In South Africa there is an alarming increase in the amount of overweight and obese individuals, with more than 29% of men and 56% of women classified as being overweight or obese. Classified as a chronic disease obesity is associated with an increased risk for cancers.
Obesity in women is related with cancers of the reproductive system while in men, obesity is linked to cancer of the rectum, colon and prostate.
Research also shows that obesity is linked to cancer of the colon, kidney as well as other non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and hypertension.
- Adults: engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, above usual activities, on five or more days of the week.
- Children and adolescents: engage in at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least five days per week.
3. Avoid Carcinogens (cancer- causing agents)
- All tobacco products are harmful to your health. If you are smoking quit as soon as possible.
- Limit or avoid alcohol – may lead to head and neck cancers, oesophagus, colon, liver and hormonal cancers.
- Stay safe in the sun. Excessive ultraviolet exposure may cause skin cancer. Avoid the use of sunbeds and self- tanning products that contain melanotan.
4. Be Pro-active and Take Control to Reduce Cancer Risk
- Know your family history and risks.
- Know your body to recognise changes, seek professional medical consultation if symptoms persist.
- Do regular self-examination for breast, testicular and skin cancers.
- Have regular check-ups and screening tests for cancer.
- Vaccinate with hepatitis B and Human Papilloma Virus vaccines to reduce the risk of liver and cervical cancer.
5. Keep Food Safe
Unsafe food can lead to a range of health problems: diarrhoea, viral disease, reproductive and developmental problems and cancers. So food safety is essential for food security.
- Always wash your hands and sanitise surfaces when handling food.
- Separate raw and cooked foods when storing in the refrigerator.
- Keep food at a safe temperature.
- Use safe water and always check expiry dates on bottled water.
- Reheat cooked food thoroughly.
- Cook food well, especially seafood and chicken.
When a cancer is detected at an early stage, there is a much better chance of successful treatment. Cancer in children can be cured in more than 70% of cases if it is diagnosed in time. Depending on the type of cancer and stage of detection, the cure rate in adults is 40% at present. It is for this reason that Western Cape Department of Health offers free screening tests at local clinics. This includes cervical smears, breast examinations, and mammograms. Some of the symptoms to look out for are weight loss for no reason, lumps and changes in the digestive system. Some of the most common cancers are preventable by changing your life style. That is why the Western Cape Department of Health aims to create a healthier society through the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. This includes regular exercise and healthy eating habits, to stop smoking and limit alcohol use.