According to the World Cancer Report submitted by the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer has beaten cardiovascular disease as the most widespread fatal illness, largely due to increased alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking. Cardiovascular disease was considered the number one cause of death in the United States and consumed $312.6 billion in health care costs annually. However all this is set to change as in Australia and many other countries globally, cancer is expected to increase by over 70 percent in just the next 20 years.
Even more disturbing, and contributing to this statistic, is the increase of cancers in young children. According to a report on childhood cancer released at the end of January by the American Cancer Society, there is both good and bad news. The bad news is that although slowly, the cases of cancer in children is on the rise. The good news is that the death rate in children suffering from cancer is falling and more children are now able to survive the scourge of this ailment. This is because it is possible to diagnose cancers much earlier now, and there are better treatments available and better support for the young patients and their families as they go through the process. Some of the signs of cancer in young children include unexplained bruising, extreme tiredness despite getting adequate nutrition and rest, steady or sudden weight loss and bumps or lumps that persist for more than a week. While some of these can be symptomatic of other conditions, it is advisable to seek medical attention.
According to the WHO, the main reason that cancer has beaten cardiovascular disease is due to lifestyle choices that include a greater consumption of alcohol and tobacco smoking. Smoking by itself is the leading cause of death in many parts of the world. In addition to cancer of the lungs, mouth, liver and colorectal region, recent studies have linked smoking to a slew of illnesses such as diabetes, Tuberculosis, congenital defects and facial clefts in babies, ectopic pregnancies and strokes. The Surgeon General’s office has recorded an overall decline in the number of people who smoke. However, it is estimated that over 20 million people have died prematurely due to tobacco related illnesses since the Surgeon General’s first report came out in 1964.
Bernard Stewart, who co-authored the WHO’s Cancer Report says that the illness is a “largely preventable disease.” Its rampant increase in Australia and other developed nations is as much due to the affluence as its spread is related to conditions of poverty in other parts of the world. Margaret Chan, the director-general of the WHO has said that cancers were increasing in two “vastly different worlds.” She went on to say that the cancers arising from impoverishment, “including infection-related cancers,” still exist along with those associated with affluence. She continued on to say that plenty are growing in leaps and bounds “owing to the adoption of industrialized lifestyles, with increasing use of tobacco, consumption of alcohol and highly processed foods, and lack of physical activity.”
Cancer linked to the excessive use of alcohol include cancer of the mouth, throat, colon, rectum, liver and breast. The important issue is not that cancer has beaten cardiovascular disease and become the number one killer because of tobacco smoking and alcohol. The important fact is that these two diseases cause six out of every 10 deaths, according to Rob Grenfell, director of cardiovascular health at The heart Foundation. It is Hippocrates the founder of Western medicine who said it best when he stated, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
By Grace Stephen