Cancer. This is a word that many people find frightening, often evoking a sense of dread and vulnerability. After all, it is perfectly comprehensible. Cancer is a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably, and it is one of the leading causes of death in Mauritius (3rd cause as of 2016). But is the population well-informed about cancer, its symptoms, and preventive measures? The real question is, what exactly do we know about cancer in Mauritius? To fight this battle successfully, one must be well prepared and well equipped. In this context, it all begins with education for everyone. The more we learn about this invisible enemy, the better we will be able to defend ourselves.
The FMCI believes that there is an urgent need to educate the public about what cancer is, the most common types of cancer in Mauritius, their various symptoms, and prevention steps. Cancer affects more than just the patient or their families; it affects an entire community and country. Remember, we are stronger than cancer when we work together! Continue reading our blog to find out more about how we can fight cancer every step of the way.
What Is Cancer?
According to the National Cancer Institute, “cancer is a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body.” But how can the body’s cells grow uncontrollably? Well, first of all, you should know that the human body is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, when cells grow old or become damaged, they die, necessitating the creation of new cells. This is where human cells grow and multiply through a process known as cell division to form the new cells that the body requires. This orderly process occasionally breaks down, and abnormal or damaged cells grow and multiply when they shouldn’t. These cells can combine to form tumours, which are tissue lumps. There are two possibilities: tumours can be benign, meaning they are not cancerous, or tumours can be cancerous. When normal cells come into contact with other cells, they stop growing and do not move around the body, whereas cancer cells invade nearby areas and spread to other parts of the body. To understand what cancer is, one does not need to be a scientist or a health professional. Learning the fundamentals is critical for the whole population.
How Is Cancer Formed?
As explained previously, cancer begins in a cell. It changes and controls how our cells function, hence affecting their normal condition. Some common causes of cancer are:
- Smoking and tobacco;
- Diet and physical activity;
- Working with toxic chemicals;
- Sun and other types of radiation;
- Inheritance/Family history;
- Some genetic disorders;
- Exposure to certain viruses;
- Environmental exposures;
This list is not exhaustive because there are numerous factors that contribute to the development of cancer cells in the body. Normally, the body eliminates cells with damaged DNA before they become cancerous. However, as we age, our bodies’ ability to do so declines. This is one of the reasons people are more likely to develop cancer at an advanced age. For some people, cancer can spread from the part of the body where it first formed to another part of the body. This spread is called “metastatic cancer.” Breast cancer, for example, that began in the breast can spread to the lung. The reasons behind metastatic cancer may vary. Depending on the type of cancer, as some are more likely to spread than others, how fast the cancer is growing or other factors that are diagnosed by doctors. While this may sound terrifying, it is important that the general public develops a certain understanding of it.
Types Of Cancer
Cancer can spread to almost every part of the human body. There are over 100 different types of cancer, and they can be categorized alphabetically from A to Z. Globally, the five most common cancers are lung cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and skin cancer. Research has revealed that in Mauritius, the three most common types of cancer among females are breast cancer, colorectal cancer and ovarian cancer. And among males, prostate, colorectal, and lung cancers are the most common.
- Colorectal cancer: A type of cancer that includes both colon and rectal cancer which begins in the rectum;
- Prostate cancer: A type of cancer that occurs in the prostate in men;
- Breast cancer: A type of cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts, and is the most common cancer among women worldwide;
- Lung cancer: A type of cancer that begins in the lungs and is the most common cancer worldwide together with breast cancer
Symptoms Of Cancer
People frequently mistakenly believe they have cancer after experiencing certain symptoms. Alternatively, people tend to ignore certain symptoms simply because they are unaware that they are associated with cancer. As a result, educating the population is critical to improving the cancer situation in Mauritius. Cancer symptoms vary depending on the type of cancer, how far it has progressed, and how much it has affected nearby organs or tissues. The following are some of the most common cancer symptoms:
- Breast changes: These includes lump or firm feeling in the breast or underarm, nipple changes or discharge, and itchy, red, scaly, dimpled, or puckered skin;
- Abnormal pelvic pains which include persistent pain or changes in women cycle, and bleeding for no reason;
- Bowel changes that include blood in the stools, pain in stomach or back passage (anus), tummy discomfort, pain when urine with blood;
- Chronic and unbearable headache;
- Chronic and persistent coughing;
- Difficulty swallowing: The feeling of food is getting stuck in the throat or trouble swallowing for weeks;
- Frequent fever or night sweats for no reason;
- Skin changes: jaundice, a new mole or a change in a mole, A sore that does not heal;
The signs and symptoms listed above are the most common ones associated with cancer, but there are many more. If any significant changes in the body are noticed, it is critical to consult a doctor. If it is cancer, early treatment increases the chances of a successful treatment.
Cancer Prevention Tips
“Eating a healthy diet, being physically active, keeping a healthy weight, as well as quitting smoking and alcohol remain the main recommendations to help reduce the risk of some cancers,” said Dr Musango, the WHO Representative in Mauritius. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Cancer prevention involves a series of simple healthy habits that can significantly reduce the risk. Prevention measures for the population include:
- Avoiding sugary foods;
- Avoid plastic containers especially for hot foods and drinks;
- Don’t smoke any type of tobacco;
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables;
- Practice physical exercise regularly;
- Protect yourself from long exposure to the sun;
- Practice safe sex and don’t share needles;
- Regular health check-ups;
- Avoid UV drying lamps or other forms of radiation;
- Limit alcohol consumption;
Preventing cancer is not the concern of the population alone. There are some critical actions that the government, NGOs, and different parties can assist with, such as:
- Encourage early detection of cancer through screening, self-check, and clinical examination;
- Enhance and upgrade cancer professionals’ skills with special training in clinical oncology;
- Train nurses in oncology;
- Upgrade radiotherapy equipment and other equipment need to detect and treat cancer;
- Regular maintenance of equipment;
- Improve care and treatment given to cancer patients in hospitals;
- Provide counseling and support both to cancer patients and their relatives;
The FMCI has committed to improving the cancer situation in Mauritius through a series of actions towards cancer patients, the general public, and the health system in Mauritius. Being informed about cancer is an important preventive measure that we must not overlook. As a result, the FMCI will pursue its various objectives, which include educating the public about cancer, financing cancer patients’ treatment in Mauritius and abroad, and supporting cancer research and related activities.