Understanding Cancer

Posted on February 7, 2018 by Martin Oaks under Community, Resources
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The causes of death we see here at Martin Oaks Cemetery & Crematory follow very closely with leading national causes that are reported throughout the United States. Heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and stroke are the most common, but diabetes, pneumonia, kidney disease, suicide, and Alzheimer’s are also edging up the list.

A conversation on understanding cancer

This comes to mind because earlier this month we celebrated World Cancer Day. This annual event, which takes place in the first week of February, is supported by the Union for International Cancer Control – it is aimed at raising awareness, clearing up misinformation and otherwise promoting prevention.

The UICC has a single goal: Significantly reducing death caused by cancer in 2020.

When we were younger, the diagnosis of cancer was effectively a death sentence. Thanks to hard work from groups like the UICC, The American Cancer Society, and others significate progress has been made towards the goal of decreasing the incidents of this horrible killer.

Because cancer has been on the decline since 1991 (rates have fallen since 1991 about 25%), the public sometimes has made the assumption that cancer is seriously on the run and will soon be eliminated. Not true at all.

What is cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, it is not just one disease – essentially it is the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells that can occur in many different forms in different parts of your body. It can start at almost any place; these diseased cells then grow out of control and dominate normal cells, making it difficult for the body to function.

Because of the various permutations, some cancers grow fast and spread quickly, others grow more slowly. These cells respond differently to different types of treatment: surgery is sometimes called for, while other times chemotherapy is the preferred method of intervention. Often several treatments are used in combination to achieve best results.

The UICC addressed the pernicious nature of cancer in the World Cancer Declaration of 2008. It pointed out how cancer effects different countries: affluent countries are not immune to the disease just because of their wealth. These countries, however, have improving survival rates due to better medical care. Less affluent countries have rapidly increasing incidents of the disease. The latter have not developed effective strategies to implement a broad based program to confront what may be an impending disaster.

In the United States the kinds of cancer which kill by gender are consistent and well-known: for men, prostate, lung, and colorectal; for women, breast, lung, and colorectal. Breast cancer accounts for 30% of new cases for women, while prostate cancer accounts for 20% of new cases for men. Racial disparities remain in effect, but are declining and are projected to continue to do so.

Cancer is often preventable because it can be caused by human behavior patterns that are harmful, patterns that could be changed. Simply stopping smoking and reducing alcohol intake would go a long way in this direction – as would reasonable dietary restrictions. In terms of skin cancer, for example (3 million cases diagnosed annually), could be prevented by reducing excessive sun exposure.

Prevention, which involves behavior modification and early detection, really does work. Overall, cancer death rates rose during much of 20th century until people stopped smoking. Two decades of this behavior modification have had dramatic impact: since the surgeon general’s report on smoking and health in the mid-1960s, it appears that there have been approximately 8 million fewer early smoking deaths.

Should you want more detailed information, or you have specific questions about cancer, we suggest you contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

We salute the Union for International Cancer Control for their work, and we strongly support the agenda of the network of similar organizations. This is truly a lifesaving endeavor, which everyone on the planet can accrue benefits from – we are all in this one together.

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