A diagnosis containing the C word is heard with dread and fear. We frequently see it as a death sentence although when we are not reacting to fear and panic we soon learn there are 14 million American cancer survivors alive and well.
But why are we seeing so much of it, and are the incidences rising?
This seems like an odd way to put it – and means no disrespect to those people who are suffering and diagnosed with the disease, but the incidence of cancer shows that as a society we have developed considerably within the last 100 years.
Most cancer is seen in older people
75% of all cancer diagnosed occurs in people who are over 55. It was not until 1940 that life expectancy reached and remained over 60 years old. A hundred years ago life expectancy was just 55 years.
Life expectancy in Africa has only just crossed the 50-year-old threshold in recent years. We can attribute the rise in cancer-related mortality because we are living longer.
The other causes of mass death are falling away
1918 was a remarkable year for many reasons. One of them the end of the First World War. 40 million people were killed in the war. But the world was hit by a crisis significantly larger and more deadly by an order of magnitude.
There was an outbreak of Spanish flu which caused the death of 500 million people across the globe. Nearly 7% of the world’s population was wiped out in a single year.
There has been no such effect since. Famine and hunger affect large areas of the world of course but in first world countries, we see more cancer because we are not dying from other things.
Cancer is linked to obesity
This is another two-sided coin factor. There are definite links between Obesity and breast (after menopause), colon and rectal, esophageal, endometrial, pancreatic, kidney, thyroid and gallbladder.
The bad news is that as a nation we have a problem with obesity and poor diet, the good news is that with a healthy diet promoting a stronger immune system we can begin to build our own defenses against cancer.
As we are living longer then we need to be open to the triggers and look to prevent them
Education is a critical part of the discussion at this point. As noted many cancers can be treated and cured. But societal education into the causes and how to avoid them is an ongoing task which we are seeing.
Most people know to slather up in sunscreen to reduce the chances of skin cancer. The types of cancer which are associated with the HPV virus can be addressed to an extent by teaching younger people about the dangers of HPV and how it is transmitted.
The incidence of cancer actually shows how far first world society has come in tackling the big things that endangered our race. Now we must tackle this one.