Cancer kills more people than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined

April 22, 2010
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Cancer kills more people than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, a medical expert has said in Doha.

“Cancer is so widespread around the world that it can be called an epidemic – one third of us will develop it and one quarter of us will die from it,” David Kerr, Chief Research Adviser, Sidra Medical and Research Centre, said at a public lecture at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar. “By 2020 the number of new cancer cases will be 20 million, with 70 per cent of them in developing countries.”

The general perception is that cancer is a single, homogenous disease. However, Kerr said that cancer was more than 100 different diseases with different natural histories, different characteristics, different kinds of behaviour, and different types of treatment.

“There are three biological properties that unify or characterise cancer. They are uncontrolled growth, the capacity of cancer cells to invade and destroy normal tissue, and the capacity of the primary tumour to break off seeds that spread to distant organs throughout the body,” he said. “All cancers, regardless of where they start, are caused by an interplay between the genes inherited from parents and the environment in which we choose or sometimes are forced to live. Radiation, viruses, chemicals, diet and tobacco are some of the contributing factors.”

The longer a person is exposed to these influential factors, the higher are the risks to develop cancer. Aged people have more tendencies to develop the disease while cancers in children are mainly caused by damaged genes inherited from parents.

“For a single, normal gene to become an aggressive and spreading cancer cell, it takes four or five different genetic changes or mutations. These changes take time. We accumulate these genetic lesions, the damage to cells, as we grow older, which is why cancer is predominantly a disease of those in the 70s and older. In children, the genes they inherited from parents are already half way through the mutations in the beginning itself and hence they develop the disease faster”

The expert said that people cannot control their genes, but can control many elements of their environment and lifestyle.

“Many people would be surprised to learn that if they ate less red meat, it would cut down their chances of getting cancer. If they ate more greens and five portions of fruit a day, their risk of cancer would decline.”

To further reduce their risk of cancer, people should avoid tobacco, protect themselves from excessive sunlight, and participate in regular exercise.

“Cancer prevention is not magical; it involves a fit and healthy lifestyle. Because cancer in its earliest stages may produce no symptoms, people should follow the guidelines for cancer screening tests, including mammograms and colonoscopies,” Kerr said.

 

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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