World Cancer Day observed globally on February 4, every year. Ithighlights the need for urgent action to increase early stage cancer detection, screening and diagnosis to significantly improve cancer patients’ chances of survival.

This year’s theme is ‘I Am and I Will’, to inspire action from individuals, the health community, and governments to improve public awareness and access to early detection, screening and diagnosis.

According to Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), 2018 saw more than 18 million new cases of cancer worldwide of which nearly 5 million cases of breast, cervical, colorectal, and oral cancers could have been detected sooner and treated more effectively, improving patient survival rates and quality of life.

The situation in Pakistan is very alarming as after cardiovascular diseases, cancer has the second highest reason of deaths.

Approx., 150 thousand to 200 thousand new cancer cases are being registered every year in Pakistan, andin most of the cases, patients consult the doctor at a very advanced or late stage and the facilities available to treat such a high number of patients are much less.

Under such a bleak scenario, SKMCH&RC is doing its best to treat cancer patients from not just all over Pakistan but Afghanistan also. Incidentally, cancer is one of the most expensive diseases to treat.  Almost ten thousand new patients register very year with SKMCH&RC.It is providing financially supported cancer treatment to 75% of its patients since 1994, and more than Rs39 billion has been spent on free cancer treatment till date.

As the treatment is very expensive therefore, medical technology at SKMCH&RC is regularly being updated. In 2018 alone, Rs. 80 million was spent on the purchase of four state-of-the-art machines including 3-Tesla MRI, Tomosynthesis digital mammography, Low-dose chest CT scan, Tesla MRI, 160 slice CT system.

While Shaukat Khanum hospital is committed to provide best cancer care facilities to every citizen, irrespective of their ability to pay, it is also imperative to spread awareness about the disease.

On marking of World Cancer Day, it is important to know about the signs like wheezing or shortness of breath, chronic cough or chest pain, frequent fevers or infections, difficulty swallowing, swollen lymph nodes or lumps on the neck, underarm, or groin, excessive bruising or bleeding that doesn’t stop, weakness and fatigue, feeling full and unable to eat, rectal bleeding or blood in stool, unexplained weight loss, upset stomach or stomachache, a red, sore, or swollen breast, pain in the back or lower right side etc.

 Males or females, both should watch for any unusual changes in their body and energy levels in order to detect any early signs of cancer. The sooner one notices any problem, the sooner one can begin to take the steps necessary to promote healing within the body.

Adopting an anti-cancer lifestyle can help the body to stay healthy and balanced and avoiding developing cancer in the first place. A healthy life style includes getting plenty of sunlight exposure to maintain vitamin D level. Reduce processed food and sugar intake. Research has found that a diet high in processed food (especially processed meats) can raise the risk of colorectal cancer.

Doing regular exercise along with a healthy diet and avoiding toxins like cigarettes, ‘Gutka’, ‘Chaaliya’ etc., is one of the most effective ways of lowering cancer risk. Similarly a good night’s sleep is also very important for the body and helps manage daily stress much more effectively, which helps lower the cancer risk. Reduceexposure to environmental toxins like pesticides, household chemical cleaner, synthetic air fresheners and air pollution. Avoid fried food items and instead boil, poach or steam it instead.

On personal level, with little effort, these relatively simple risk reduction strategies can help one to virtually eliminate cancer risk, and radically improve chances of recovering from cancer if one has it.

The writer is Consultant Medical Oncologist at Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre.