Monday, 4 February 2013

World Cancer Day 2013

Today is World Cancer Day 2013 and this year is focusing on target five of the World Cancer Declaration: "Dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer".

The purpose of World Cancer Day 2013 is to raise a collective voice to try and improve knowledge about cancer as well as dismissing misconceptions surrounding the disease.

I thought I would mark the day by summarizing a few "key facts" about the disease. 

What Causes Cancer?
Genes tell our cells what to do and are encoded in our DNA. Cancer is caused by damaged or faulty genes. Anything that can damage our DNA can increase the risk of cancer, although several genes within the same cell will need to be damaged for cancer to occur.

Most cancers develop when DNA damage accumulates over a lifetime, which is why cancer affects so many older people. Some people are born with a specific gene fault, which they inherit from their parents, and this can also lead to a heightened risk of the disease developing. Everyone has subtle differences in their genes which can increase or decrease their chances of developing cancer.

However, cancer isn't just caused by our genes and our lifestyles play a huge role in increasing and decreasing our chances of developing certain cancer types. Whilst no one can change their genetic make up, we can take important steps with our lifestyles to try and reduce our chances of developing the disease.

Lifestyle Choices To Consider:
Age - The single biggest risk factor for cancer. As you get older, your chances of developing cancer increase. Nearly 2/3 cancer cases in the UK are occurring in people over sixty five. Obviously this is because as we age, we accumulate more cancer causing faults in our DNA. People live much long nowadays which means our chances of picking up these cancer causing faults are increasing.

Lifestyle - Nearly half of all cancers can be prevented by changes to lifestyle. There are many ways we can try and lessen our risk of cancer:
 * Giving Up Smoking
* Being responsible in the sun
* Eating a balanced diet
* Limiting alcohol
* Regular exercise
* Having a healthy body weight

Carcinogens - This literally translates as "something that causes cancer" They can damage DNA and cause damage to important genes which will lead to cancer. Examples of common carcinogens are:
* Tobacco
* Car exhaust fumes
* Air pollution
* The sun
* Radiation (both natural and man made) for example X-Rays
* Asbestos
Please don't think carcinogens are the only cause of cancer, in most cases they are a contributing factor and are joined by a number of other factors.

Inherited Fault Genes - Obviously this is the factor I am most familiar with. Some people (like Georgie) are born with a gene containing a fault. This doesn't guarantee them a battle with cancer but it does mean fewer things need to go wrong with their DNA for the disease to develop. They are more vulnerable to the disease. They have a higher risk. People with a strong family history of cancer can be genetically tested. It is incredibly important. Please visit for more information about this. As a family we really do believe more people need to be genetically tested and are trying to make it happen. 

Viruses - There are some viruses that can be linked to some types of cancer. Don't confuse a virus with an infection - cancer is not contagious - you cannot catch it from someone else. some examples of these viruses are:
* Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a major cause of cervical cancer
* Hepatitis B and C can cause primary liver cancer
* Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has been linked to several cancers. This is because it weakens the immune system.

Signs and Symptoms of Cancer:
There are some warning signs that should always be checked out by a medical professional. I am going to highlight them below. Please note, these symptoms do not guarantee you have cancer but they do need to be investigated. Do not think they are nothing to bother your GP about and do not worry about being embarrassed – your doctor will have seen and heard of a lot worse trust me!

Signs of cancer for both men and women:
* Usual lump or swelling anywhere on your body - Men should pay particular attention to any lumps in their testicles and women should pay particular attention to any breast lumps. Everyone should watch out for lumps on your neck, armpit, abdomen, groin or chest area. The best time to have a check is probably when having a bath or shower. Have a good feel and know how your body feels so if any lumps do appear you can detect them easily.

* A mole that has changed shape, size or colour - most moles are harmless. However be aware of them because if a new mole appears or one changes colour, shape or size then it will need to be checked. If any mole begins or ooze, bleed or become crusty then please make an appointment with your GP ASAP.

* A sore that hasn't healed after several weeks - our skin is usually able to repair itself easily (within a week or so) If a spot, wart or sore isn't able to heal itself after three weeks then please go to your doctor.

* An ulcer in your mouth or on your tongue that has been there more then three weeks - most people get mouth ulcers when they are feeling run down. Usually they are nothing to worry about. Usually the lining of your mouth will renew itself every two weeks so an ulcer won't last much longer then that. However is an ulcer does last long then three weeks please visit your doctor or dentist.

* A cough or croaky voice that lasts longer then three weeks - these are symptoms of a cold. Usually they disappear after a week or so and are not signs of anything serious. But if they do last for longer then three weeks or if they get persistently worse then please do go to your doctor. ESPECIALLY if you are a smoker or have been a smoker.

* Persistent difficulty swallowing - Lots of medical conditions can affect your ability to swallow. If you are having difficulty and it lasts longer then a week or so then you should go to your doctor.

* Indigestion - There are lots of foods, especially fatty or spicy ones that can make you feel uncomfortable after eating them. If this is happening to you a lot or is really painful then it should be checked out.

* Blood in your urine - This should ALWAYS be reported to your doctor. It might not mean cancer but it should always be looked at.

* Problems passing urine - It is common for men to have difficulty passing urine as they get older. You may need to pee more often then you used to and it can sometimes be painful. Usually it is caused by a common condition causing your prostate to enlarge. It it not often cancer but if you are having trouble please visit a doctor. Most women experiencing problems with urine are suffering from an infection but if you need to pass urine more urgently then normal or are in pain whilst doing so, please get yourself checked out.

* Blood in your bowel movements - This is usually caused by piles which is caused by straining when you are going to the toilet. It can also be a sign of cancer so please stay vigilant.

* A change in your bowel movements that lasts longer then six weeks (diarrhoea) - this is usually caused by stomach bugs or food poisoning. If it lasts longer then a few weeks please get yourself to the doctors.

* Unexpected weight loss - It is normal for your weight to fluctuate slightly. However if you are not on a diet but are losing lots of weight please get a check up.

* Heavy night sweats - these are usually brought on by infections and some types of medications. They are also common in women going through the menopause. They can also be caused by some cancers so please take care if you are experiencing them regularly.

* Unexplained pain or ache that lasts longer then four weeks - Pain is our bodies telling us something is not right. Take notice of any pain and if it is persistent or getting worse then go see your doctor as soon as you can.

* Coughing up blood - ALWAYS go to see your doctor as soon as this happens.

Signs of cancer in women specifically:
* An usual change in your breast - lumps are not the only sign of breast cancer. Changes to your breast's appearance, shape or feel are also signs as are changes to the texture of the skin, any redness or changes to your nipples. Pain in your breast is also a sign. If you experience any of these, don't panic but visit your GP ASAP.

* Bleeding from the vagina after the menopause or in between periods - Spotting (bleeding between periods) is common for females taking the contraceptive pill. However if you are bleeding during or after sex, between periods or after going through the menopause then it should be check out straight away.

Persistent bloating - Bloating is the blight of lots of women's lives. If it happens persistently please have a check up.

Some of these symptoms may seem embarrassing or silly. Don't ever feel embarrassed to see your doctor - they have seen it all and do not judge. Don't ever feel like you're bothering your doctor or wasting a time slot - if you have a concern or symptom, they are there to listen, to check and to reassure. If you are worried or think you may need to see a doctor then please don't deliberate, make the appointment as soon as you can. Early diagnosis saves lives. It also puts your mind at rest if nothing is actually wrong with you. Don’t be too scared to visit your GP. Remember, most of the time it will be absolutely nothing to worry about. It is ALWAYS best to get seen as soon as possible because it is always best to catch something as early as possible. If you are really nervous then take someone you trust with you.

Knowing Your Body
I have said this time and time again but knowing what is “normal” for you and your body is massively important. Knowing what is normal makes it easier to know when something isn’t quite right. It makes it easier to know when a consistent change is occurring and it will hopefully lead to you seeking medical advice quicker. Examples of getting to know your body include:
MEN – check your testicles at least once a month. Get to know how they feel; their size, their shape etc…..

LADIES – Check your breasts once a month to get to know what is “normal” for you and to check for any new and unexpected lumps, bumps and changes

EVERYONE - It may sound crude, but get to know your toilet habits. Know what is normal for you. Do you go twice a day or twice a week for example?


Some Positive Facts About The Fight Against Cancer:
I want to end this post by highlighting some positive statistics about the progress being made against cancer. We are making huge strides and more and more people are surviving every year. Cures are within our grasp.
*More then 9/10 men with testicular cancer survive and are cured of the disease.
*More than ¾ of children are surviving cancer compared to ¼ surviving back in the 1960’s.
*The three most common cancers in the UK are breast, bowel and lung cancer and they have all seen their death rates drop to their lowest level in forty years.
*The number of deaths from cancer are continuously dropping
*The number of people surviving cancers such as prostate and skin have dramatically improved
*The amount of people surviving more then ten years after a cancer diagnosis has DOUBLED over the past three decades
*The number of people surviving more then five years after a cancer diagnosis is now HALF of all cancer patients
*For cancers with low overall survival rates, early diagnosis does still mean chances of beating the disease are higher.

For information on specific lifestyle choices, specific cancer types, cancer charities and plenty more factual information about issues surrounding cancer, please have a look at this page and find the post that interests you.

Losing six relatives to cancer has been horrific and I remain determined to work hard and play a role in defeating cancer. I strongly believe cures will start to be found during my lifetime and I look forward to that day.

On World Cancer Day I send my love to everyone fighting cancer across the world right now, and their loved ones too. I raise my glass to all those that have been lost, especially Georgie, Auntie Eleni, Dada Sotiris, Nouna Gina, Yiayia Alexandra and Buppou Peter.


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