World Cancer Day is February 4th

January 28, 2019

Most Canadians have been impacted by cancer either directly or indirectly. If we haven’t experienced it ourselves, we know someone who has, whether it’s a family member, a friend, a colleague, or a neighbour. This horrible disease can take a devastating physical, emotional, and financial toll on those diagnosed with it and their loved ones. However, with World Cancer Day taking place on February 4th, we can all come together and join other countries all around the world to stand up to cancer by increasing awareness and taking action.

World Cancer Day occurs each year on February 4th. It arose from the Paris Charter adopted at the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium in Paris on February 04, 2000 with the intent of promoting curative research and prevention of the disease, as well as improving patient services, increasing awareness, and a call to action by the international community (source: World Cancer Day, https://www.worldcancerday.org).

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, 565 Canadians today will be told, “You have cancer.” Furthermore, the Canadian Cancer Society also states that an estimated 206,200 new cases of cancer and 80,800 deaths from cancer occurred in 2017 (the number of estimated new cases does not include non-melanoma skin cancer cases) and that cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, accounting for 30 per cent of all deaths (source: Canadian Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.ca). The statistics are alarming and are a call for action for more research, increasing awareness, and prevention efforts.

There are very few cancers which have a single identifiable cause. It’s often more complicated with potentially several risk factors being involved. However, it’s worth noting that cancer can sometimes happen to individuals who don’t have any risk factors. Risk factors may contribute to triggering and facilitating the growth of cancer in various ways. The risk factors for cancer may include: aging; smoking; absence of sun protection; having certain genetic changes; being overweight or obese; unhealthy diet; lack of physical activity; alcohol consumption; coming into contact with harmful chemicals at home or at work; and possessing certain types of infections.

Cancer risk is associated with an individual’s chance of developing the disease. If we’re equipped with knowledge about cancer risk, it can assist each of us in making informed decisions about our health and well-being. The Canadian Cancer Society advises that, “In general, the more often and longer you are in contact with a risk factor, the greater the chance that cancer will develop.” The Society also advises that it may take cancer many years to develop after being subjected to a risk factor. Furthermore, it generally occurs after being exposed to many risk factors over a period of time.

Some individuals are at a greater risk for developing cancer due to certain risk factors, while at the same time, even for those individuals possessing one or more risk factors, there’s no way to know just how much these factors may influence cancer occurring in that individual in their later years. What this essentially means is that being at high risk doesn’t necessarily lead to the development of cancer. Inversely, individuals who are seen to be at low risk for cancer may still develop the disease. It’s important to note that being low risk doesn’t mean cancer can’t occur. Being low risk represents a smaller chance of developing the disease.

If we’re aware of the risk factors for cancers, we can take steps to help reduce our risk of cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society website states that, “about half of all cancers can be prevented through healthy living and policies that protect the public.” The Society also notes that smoking is estimated to be responsible for 30 per cent of all cancer deaths and that one-third of cancers are related to diet, obesity, and lack of exercise. The risk factors can either be increased or decreased depending on lifestyle choices, as well as an individual’s living and work environments.

On February 4th, I encourage you to speak with family and friends about cancer. When we engage in conversations about cancer, we can break down much of the confusion, myths, and stigmas often associated with the disease. World Cancer Day is also an excellent opportunity to become involved in local initiatives and events in the community to fund crucial research efforts. In taking these steps, we can bring about positive change while also giving hope and support to those fighting cancer.