Cancer isn’t something anyone wants to experience – either themselves or for their loves ones. It instantly elicits a visceral reaction of anger, fear, and grief. Yet, the reality is that most of us will experience cancer in our own lives or in the lives of someone we know.
According to a recent report released by the Canadian Cancer Society, almost 1 in 2 Canadians (49% of men and 45% of women) will astonishingly be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, with about a quarter of cancer cases expected to lose their lives. That’s an incredibly large segment of the Canadian population!
Currently, cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada as it is responsible for 30% of all deaths across the country. In 2016, an estimated 78,800 deaths occurred in 2016 from cancer, with about half of cancer-related deaths being due to lung, breast, prostate, and colon cancers. Due to population growth and aging, this number is only expected to grow as most cancer cases are seen in people over 50 years. Yet despite this, the rate of cancer-related deaths has, in fact, declined since the late-1980s for men and the early-1990s for women in Canada and it is continuing to go down today.
It’s important to understand that cancer isn’t just one type of disease, it’s a category that describes over 100 diseases where certain cells in any part of the body grow out-of-control and multiply abnormally. These overgrown cells will often develop into tumors, which vary in location and size. If these cells spread to other parts of the body (i.e. don’t remain localized), they are considered cancerous and pose a risk to our health.
Cancer cells are formed due to mutations that causes changes in our DNA – the genetic code for life. Mutations affect cells in different ways, but the outcome is that they damage our genes, which in turn results in uncontrollable and abnormal cell multiplication. Mutations happen for due to a number of reasons, they may occur spontaneously, due to genetics or lifestyle, or because of exposure to carcinogens or radiation (e.g. cigarettes and radon).
Risk factors for cancer are plenty, including: smoking, alcohol, nutrition and physical activity, sexual behaviour and reproductive health, and environmental pollution. High risk populations in Canada include those that have a low socio-economic status, reside in rural areas, as well as belong to ethnic minorities and are immigrants. Looking at lung cancer in particular, a study found that its incidence is higher among those who had a lower education, income, and position in their occupational hierarchy.
Altogether, cancer is an indiscriminate disease. Although there are patterns to whom it may affect and which part of the body it will grow in, it is vital to remember that cancer can strike anyone at any age at any point in their life. However, this doesn’t mean that we should not take precautions to lower our risk of cancer: lead a healthy and active life so that you can lower your risk and hopefully, avoid being told that you have cancer.