1 Some viruses can cause cancer
Most people know that some lifestyle choices, such as smoking and prolonged exposure to the sun can increase the risk of developing cancer. What is less commonly known is that some viral infections can raise your risk, too.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) can lead to cervical cancer, while the hepatitis B virus (HBV) increases the risk of liver cancer. Both viruses can be passed from person to person through blood or sex. The risk of this happening, however, can be reduced by having yourself vaccinated against HPV and HBV.
2 Sugar has a role
While there is no evidence linking sugar to cancer directly, consuming too much sugar in your diet can cause you to gain weight and become obese – which can in turn increase your risk of developing cancer.
Watching your sugar intake is thus important, as is exercising and maintaining a healthy weight.
3 Go easy on alcohol
The less alcohol – beer, wine or spirits – you drink, the better. Why? Because alcohol has been linked to higher risks of developing mouth, throat, oesophageal, liver, colorectal, breast and stomach cancers.
Men should not have more than two drinks of alcohol a day, while women should limit themselves to just one a day.
4 Most cancers are not inherited
Many people believe that most cases of cancer are genetic, but the statistics actually show otherwise. Only five to 10 per cent of cancer cases are caused by abnormal genes that run in the family.
The likelihood of getting cancer from other factors is higher – an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, viruses, or excessive exposure to sunlight and tobacco smoke.
5 Forty per cent of cancers are preventable
Because many of the factors that cause cancer are within your control, there is much you can do to reduce your risk of developing the disease.
According to the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research, these recommendations will help lower your risk of developing cancer:
- Stay active.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Cut down on red meat and sugary drinks.
- Use more fresh ingredients in cooking.
- Eat less processed, salted as well as smoked food like ham, bacon and sausages.
- Eat less food that contain added preservatives like nitrates or are processed through smoking, salting or drying, as these processes may produce carcinogenic compounds in food.
6 Not all tumours are cancerous
Tumours are formed when cells in the body do not die when they should, or when there is abnormal cell growth. But not all tumours are malignant; some are benign.
Malignant tumours are cancerous and they can invade surrounding tissue and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Benign tumours, on the other hand, do not spread or invade surrounding tissue. Once removed, they usually do not recur.
7 Screening is essential
Cancers that are detected in early stages, when they are still small, are easier to treat. And there is a very good chance of a cure if the cancer has not spread.
So do not skip your screening – make sure you go for the recommended screenings according to your age, even if you are well.
Common screenings include:
- Mammography for breast cancer
- Colonoscopy or a stool test for colorectal cancer
- Pap smear for cervical cancer
8 Look out for the warning signs
For most cancers, pain is not an initial symptom. In fact, pain and the more obvious symptoms usually appear only when the cancer is in advanced stages. However, there are warning signs that may indicate that cancer has developed. If they persist, see a doctor as soon as possible. Do not ignore unusual signs:
- Lumps in the breast or on other parts of the body.
- Hoarseness or a persistent cough that is not due to a viral illness.
- Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
- Unexpected or rapid, significant weight loss.
- Sores that do not heal.
- Unusual bleeding or vaginal discharge, or blood in phlegm, urine or stool.
- Chronic constipation or diarrhoea, or a change in the pattern or size of stool.
- Changes in the colour, shape and size of a wart or mole.
9 Breast cancer is the biggest killer
From 2010 to 2014, there were 61,522 cancer cases diagnosed in Singapore.
In total, 25,731 people died from cancer, or about 41 per cent of all cases. Men and women are equally likely to suffer cancer, but from different ones.
10 Alternative therapies may help
While cancer cannot be treated with alternative therapies, alternative therapies may complement the treatment that you are undergoing. Do inform your oncologist, however, of any supplementary treatment or medication you are considering, so that they can help ensure that there are no side effects, and that the therapies do not affect the effectiveness of the ongoing treatment.
Written by Kok Bee Eng
Source: CanHOPE. CanHOPE is a non-profit cancer counselling and support service provided by Parkway Cancer Centre.
Cancer in Singapore: Facts & Figures
31,743 cases diagnosed
Top 5 cancers:
1. Breast - 29.2%
2. Colorectal - 13.3%
3. Lung - 7.6%
4. Uterine - 6.6%
5. Ovarian - 5.5%
29,779 cases diagnosed
Top 5 cancers:
1. Colorectal - 17.1%
2. Lung - 15.1%
3. Prostate - 12.4%
4. Liver - 7.6%
5. Lymphoid neoplasms - 6.8%
Source: The Singapore Cancer Registry, Annual Registry Report, Trends in Cancer Incidence in Singapore, 2010-2014