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Nepal must do more to curb cancer

Publication Date : 07-02-2014


Cancer is now the leading cause of death in the world, with 8.2 million deaths in 2012 alone.

Cancer cases worldwide are expected to increase by 70 per cent over the next two decades, with developing and underdeveloped countries most affected, according to the World Health Organisation's (WHO) World Cancer Report 2014.

Once largely concentrated in the Western world, cancer is slowly becoming the bane of low- and middle-income countries, with a lack of vaccinations, increasing levels of pollution, a lack of diagnostic infrastructure and human resource and lax standards of hygiene and food adulteration all contributing to the rise in incidence.

Cancer is a complex disease with a range of causes, only some of which are known. Tobacco, alcohol, processed foods, obesity and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays, lead and arsenic have all been linked to various kinds of cancer.

Tobacco especially is the biggest risk factor for cancer, accounting for over 70 percent of lung cancer deaths worldwide. Some types of cancer, like breast and colon, can even be hereditary. Cancer can also develop through infections by pathogens like the Hepatitis B virus (liver cancer), H Pylori bacteria (stomach cancer) and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) (cervical cancer).

In Nepal, where the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine is not easily available, there were over 3,500 cases of cervical cancer in 2009 alone. In cities like Kathmandu, the polluted air, which is thick with particulate matter, can contribute to the development of lung and throat cancer. Carcinogens have also been proven to be present in food additives, some forms of ayurvedic medicine and preservatives.

For all doctors know of cancer, there is just as much they don't know. Cancer can manifest suddenly, at very young ages and in people with no risk factors. This is why it is important to stay vigilant and undergo periodic check-ups, especially if there is a family history of cancer. Here, the government can conduct awareness campaigns for the public on potential cancer risk factors and the importance of regular visits to the doctor.

Though there is treatment for cancer, it is not a sure-fire cure and can include distressing measures like radiotherapy, which take years and cost millions. Increasing taxes and regulations on products that have proven links to cancer, like cigarettes and tobacco, would be welcome measures.

Concerned bodies like the Ministry of Health and Population must invest in HPV and Hepatitis vaccines, as these can help prevent cancers through infection. On a personal level, simple changes in lifestyle, like quitting smoking, drinking in moderation and taking up an exercise regimen, can significantly decrease cancer risks by up to 30 per cent, according to the World Health Organisation.

It might not be wholly possible to prevent cancer, given its murky causes, but it would be foolish to think that cancer can be effectively treated away; it would be wiser to try and prevent incidence, as much as is possible.


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