‘Western lifestyles increasing cancer risk’

Paidamoyo Chipunza
Seventy-year-old Joseph Gunduza from Karoi walks into the radiology and oncology centre housed within Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals seeking treatment for stomach cancer, which he was diagnosed of a year ago. Gunduza’s diagnosis followed unending visits to health institutions fromKaroi to Karanda and now Parirenyatwa Hospital, sadly with not much improvement.

In the past three years, he has swallowed different types of tablets, went through an operation and is now scheduled for chemotherapy — processes that are all financially and emotionally draining.

“My main challenge is financial resources to purchase required drugs, which are way too expensive for me and I have appealed to the hospital to assist me with securing funding for the drugs,” said Mr Gunduza.
Mr Gunduza’s struggles are typical of most cancer patients in Zimbabwe as they face a double tragedy of poverty and illness.

According to the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe (CAZ), cancer is killing more people than HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria combined.

Statistics indicate that deaths have risen almost two-fold over the past 10 years, with majority of both cases and deaths going unreported.

Moreover, a majority of the cases reporting to health facilities do so when it is already late.
Coupled with financial incapacity to meet the high costs associated with advanced treatments, many patients die without accessing recommended treatments, yet it is preventable.
Yes, cancer is preventable.

In fact, according to CAZ, 95 percent of all cancers are caused by Westernised lifestyles with only five percent caused by genetic disorders.

CAZ wellness consultant and public health specialist Mrs Priscilla Mangwiro said diets, (fast foods, cooking methods, fizzy drinks, red meat), excessive alcohol intake, tobacco smoking-including passive smoking, and lack of exercise leading to overweight and obesity were high risk factors to developing different types of cancers.

She said according to latest statistics, unhealthy eating habits account for about 40 percent of different types of cancers, which include lung, breast, gall bladder, prostate, pancreatic, colorectal among others while smoking and excessive alcohol intake also accounts for about 30 percent of cancers which include liver and oesophagus cancers.

“Processed foods, red meat, ham burgers, barbecued meat (braai), junk foods, used cooking oil and fizzy drinks increase chances of people developing cancers and should be consumed with caution,” said Mrs Mangwiro.

She said red meat should be taken not more than thrice a week, recommending white meat and other sources of protein such as beans and mackerel fish.

Mrs Mangwiro also said the recommended alcohol intake was a pint of beer a day for women and two pints for men.
She said when cooking, people should cut down on frying, braais, grilling and reusing cooking oil again recommending use of foil during braai or grilling.

On tobacco use, she said passive smoking was equal to actual smoking as far as exposing people to cancer was concerned and should be quitted completely.

Tobacco is responsible for cancer of the lung, larynx (voice box), mouth, oesophagus, throat, bladder, kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas, colon and rectum among others.

She said obesity also accounts for about 20 percent of different types of cancers and urged people to consider at least 30 minutes of exercises a day as a prevention strategy.

Mrs Mangwiro said stress was also another high risk factor linked to cancer.
She said laughing works out the diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles and increases levels of antibodies and immune cells in the body.

“Laughter is the best medicine. You do not need to be happy or have a sense of humour to benefit from a good laugh.
“Your body can’t distinguish between real and fake laughter — any giggle will do,” said Mrs Mangwiro.
Mrs Mangwiro said according to latest statistics, only five percent of cancers ravaging the country at the moment were related to genetic disorders.

“Age, history of cancer, hereditary and family history, race and reproductive history are some of the risk factors contributing to the five percent of cancers related to genetics.

“Above all, about 65 percent of all cancers are associated with HIV,” said Mrs Mangwiro.
She said despite the fact that majority of these cancers were preventable, reported cases throughout the country continue to increase over the past 10 years.

According to statistics from the National Cancer Registry in 2005, 4 015 cancers cases were reported before they went up to about 5 500 in 2011.

In 2012, the cases further went up to about 6 100 before going up again to about 7 100 in recent years.
Cancer specialist and head of radiology and oncology centre in Harare Dr Ntokozo Ndlovu said prevention of cancer was better than managing it owing to challenges and expenses associated with cancer management.

Dr Ndlovu said while the hospital was doing all it could to assist patients, they often face challenges in providing required drugs for effective treatment.

“Sometimes we might not have the required drugs and we have no choice but to request our patients to buy from private pharmacies, a situation that compromises effective management of the condition as some patients might not be able to procure the medication,” said Dr Ndlovu.
Cancer drugs cost an average of about $400.

Dr Ndlovu said issues of accommodation for patients coming from out of Harare and requiring repeated medical attention were also a cause for concern.

She said a temporary home, which was offered by a well-wisher in Harare was also facing its own challenges.
“We continue lobbying for amicable solution towards revitalisation of a home meant for cancer patients, which is housed at Harare Central Hospital so that we minimise challenges faced by our patients,” she said.

Deputy director for communicable diseases in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Justice Mudavanhu said although Government has not yet put in place wellness programmes, some medical aid societies were already implementing them for their clients to discourage sedentary lifestyles.

Dr Mudavanhu said Government will continue working with different partners in raising cancer awareness to encourage early detection and healthy lifestyles.
“We need to continue creating awareness on these diseases so that people suffering from them present early for treatment,” he said.

The National Aids Council has also partnered with CAZ to fight cancer as statistics also show that about 65 percent of all cancers were HIV related.

Cancer is one of the four major NCDs, together with Cardio vascular diseases, Diabetes mellitus and chronic respiratory diseases.

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