CANCER; A THREAT TO LIVELIHOOD
Imagine your body as a bustling city with cells as its citizens. In that city, normal cells follow traffic rules, growing, dividing, and having a system for their life cycle. Now, here comes the troublemaker, Mr. Cancer Cell, breaking all the rules and multiplying like crazy, causing chaos.
These rogue cells form a gang, creating either a peaceful gathering (benign tumor) or a destructive force (malignant tumor). The benign gang stays put, not bothering anyone, while the malignant gang goes on a rampage, invading nearby neighborhoods and even hopping on the bloodstream or lymphatic system buses to spread their mischief to other parts of the city, a.k.a. metastasis.
So, cancer turns your well-organized cellular city into a wild, uncontrollable mess with different types of troublemaking gangs causing havoc in their unique ways.
WHAT CANCER IS?
Cancer is a disease that occurs when cells in the body start to grow and divide uncontrollably. Normal cells in the body follow a regulated process of growth, division, and death, maintaining a balance. However, cancer cells evade these controls, proliferating uncontrollably and forming tumors.
Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are non-cancerous and usually pose no threat to surrounding tissues, whereas malignant tumors are cancerous and can invade surrounding tissues and move to other body parts with the help of the bloodstream or lymphatic system, in a process called metastasis.
Cancer is a complex and multifaceted condition that is of numerous types, with each type behaving differently.
MOST COMMON TYPES OF CANCER IN NIGERIA
The National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) is a division of the Federal Ministry of Health that works to coordinate cancer treatment and control in the country. The NCCP works with several partner organizations, including the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to NCCP, the most common types of cancer in Nigeria are:
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Oesophageal cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Leukemia (blood cancer)
- Pancreatic cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Lung cancer
DIAGNOSIS OF CANCER
Several different types of tests can be used to diagnose cancer. The diagnosis of cancer typically involves a combination of tests and procedures. Some of the most common tests include blood, imaging, biopsies, and genetic tests.
Blood tests can detect certain proteins or hormones that may be produced by the cancer cells. Imaging tests, such as CT (Computed Tomography) scans, MRI or (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans, and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans can help locate tumors and determine how large they are. A CT scan, or computed tomography scan, is a type of imaging test that uses a special machine to take detailed pictures of the inside of the body. The machine takes a series of X-rays from different angles and then combines them to create cross-sectional images. CT scans are often used to diagnose cancer and to monitor the response to treatment. An MRI scan is another type of imaging test that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the inside of the body. Unlike a CT scan, an MRI scan doesn’t use X-rays. Instead, it uses a large magnet and radio waves to create the images. MRI scans are often used to look at soft tissues and organs, and they can show more detail than CT scans. A PET scan is a type of imaging test that uses a special dye, called a radiotracer, to create detailed images of the inside of the body. The radiotracer is injected into the body and then absorbed by cells. A special camera detects the radiation emitted by the radiotracer and creates a 3D image of the inside of the body. PET scans are often used to detect cancer and to determine whether it has spread. A biopsy is a procedure that removes a small piece of tissue to be examined under a microscope. Finally, genetic tests can look for specific mutations in the DNA of cancer cells.
RISK FACTORS OF CANCER
There are many different risk factors for cancer, but some of the most common ones include family history, smoking, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, drugs, and exposure to certain chemicals. Family history can be a very important risk factor for cancer. Some types of cancer, such as breast cancer and colon cancer, are more likely to occur in families with a history of the disease. This is because some types of cancer can be caused by changes in certain genes that are passed down from generation to generation. In some cases, genetic testing can be done to see if someone has these gene changes which therefore increases the risk of developing cancer. Smoking is a major risk factor for lung cancer, as well as other types of cancer. Obesity is also linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer and colon cancer. A sedentary lifestyle, meaning lack of physical activity, has been linked to an increased risk of cancer. While in drugs, there is some evidence that some contraceptives may increase the risk of certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer and cervical cancer, the overall risk is still very low. For example, studies have found that the risk of breast cancer is slightly increased among women who have ever used hormonal contraceptives, but the risk decreases over time after they stop using them. In terms of chemical exposure, certain chemicals used in the workplace, such as asbestos, can increase the risk of certain types of cancer.
POSSIBLE PREVENTION OF CANCER
Prevention is an important part of reducing the risk of cancer. There are things people can do to reduce their risk of having cancer, such as quitting smoking, getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. Some other ways to reduce the risk of cancer include limiting alcohol intake, avoiding too much sun exposure, and getting regular screenings for certain types of cancer. In some cases, vaccines can also be used to prevent cancer, such as the HPV vaccine, which can prevent cervical cancer.
POSSIBLE TREATMENT OF CANCER
There are many different types of treatment for cancer, and the specific treatment plan will depend on the type of cancer and its stage. The main types of treatment include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplant. Some cancers may be treated with a combination of these treatments. The goals of treatment are to cure the cancer, slow its growth, or relieve symptoms.
Surgery is often the first cancer treatment, and it may be used to remove the tumor and any surrounding tissue. Sometimes surgery is used to remove lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread. Other times, surgery is used to relieve symptoms or reduce the size of a tumor. After surgery, other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation may be used to kill any remaining cancer cells.
This treatment uses high-energy waves to kill cancer cells. They are divided into two main types – external beam radiation and internal radiation therapy. External beam radiation therapy uses a machine to send radiation beams to the cancer cells. Internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy, uses radioactive materials that are placed inside the body near the cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs may be given through an IV or taken by mouth. Chemotherapy drugs work by attacking rapidly dividing cells, which include cancer cells. However, some healthy cells also divide rapidly, which can lead to side effects like hair loss, nausea, and fatigue. These side effects disappear most times when treatment stops.
- Targeted therapy
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs to target specific features of cancer cells. These features can include proteins on the outside of cancer cells or changes inside the cells. Targeted therapy is different from chemotherapy because it works on specific targets, so it may have fewer side effects. However, targeted therapy doesn’t work for all types of cancer.
Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. The immune system normally attacks foreign substances in the body, like bacteria and viruses. Immunotherapy assists the immune system to ensure that cancer cells are recognized and attacked. There are different types of immunotherapy, such as checkpoint inhibitors and CAR T-cell therapy. These types of treatment can have side effects, but they may be less severe than the side effects of other types of cancer treatment.
- Stem cell transplant
A stem cell transplant is a treatment that uses healthy stem cells to replace damaged or diseased bone marrow. The stem cells are given through an IV and they travel to the bone marrow, where they begin to make new blood cells. Stem cell transplants can be used to treat certain types of cancer, like leukemia and lymphoma. But they can have serious side effects, including infection, bleeding, and graft-versus-host disease.
IMPACTS OF CANCER
Have you ever been faced with death? Like having to face your death? Ever found yourself in between the devil and the deep blue sea? That’s exactly the feeling of being diagnosed with cancer. Cancer can have a big impact on patients and their families in many ways.
- Emotional impact of cancer:
Cancer is not only a physical disease; it is also an emotional one. The emotional toll of cancer is immeasurable, affecting not only the diagnosed individual but also their loved ones. A cancer diagnosis brings with it a whirlwind of emotions – fear, anxiety, depression, grief, and uncertainty become constant companions. Patients undergo physical and emotional upheaval, facing the harsh realities of treatments, side effects, and the unpredictability of the disease.
Family members and caregivers witness their loved ones grappling with pain and suffering, experiencing their emotional turmoil. The stress of caregiving, coupled with the fear of loss, can lead to mental health challenges for those supporting cancer patients. Relationships strain under the weight of the diagnosis, as individuals navigate the complex terrain of providing support while coping with their emotional distress.
- Economic Impact of Cancer:
The economic consequences of a cancer diagnosis are profound, affecting individuals, families, and society at large. The direct costs of medical treatments, including surgeries, chemotherapy, and medications, can be staggering. Additionally, indirect costs such as lost productivity, missed workdays, and caregiver expenses contribute to the financial strain.
Patients often find themselves grappling with medical bills that spiral out of control, leading to financial instability. For many, the burden of cancer extends beyond treatment, impacting their ability to work and earn a livelihood. The economic fallout is not confined to the individual; it ripples through families, often resulting in depleted savings and increased debt.
In addition to the financial burden of cancer, there’s also the issue of job loss. Many people with cancer have to take time off work or even quit their jobs entirely. This can lead to a loss of income, as well as a loss of health insurance and other benefits. It’s a vicious cycle, where the financial burden of cancer leads to job loss, which only adds to the financial burden. It’s really a Catch-22 situation for many people. A “Catch-22” is a situation where you’re stuck between two equally bad options, and there’s no easy way out. In the case of cancer patients in Nigeria, the “Catch-22” is that they can’t afford treatment, but they also can’t afford to not get treatment. So, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
In addition to the individual financial burden of cancer, there’s also a societal cost. According to the World Bank, the cost of cancer treatment in Nigeria is estimated to cost the country $13 billion each year. That’s a huge drain on the economy, and it has a ripple effect on the country’s ability to grow and develop. Cancer is truly a public health crisis in Nigeria, on both an individual and a societal level.
Cancer remains a formidable threat to livelihood, encompassing not only the physical health of individuals but also their economic stability and emotional well-being. The economic impact reverberates through communities, straining resources, and challenging societal structures. The emotional toll on patients and their families is profound, requiring not only medical intervention but also comprehensive support systems to address the psychological fallout.
However, amidst the challenges, there is a beacon of hope. Advances in cancer treatment and prevention are transforming the narrative, offering new possibilities for patients and their families. The synergy between scientific innovation, early detection, and preventive measures is gradually reshaping the landscape of cancer, fostering a future where the threat to livelihood is mitigated, and individuals can lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.