World Cancer Day

[Kat Clements | Contributing Writer]

February the 4th marks World Cancer Day, a global event organised by the Union for International Cancer Control. The day aims to “take a positive and proactive approach to the fight against cancer, highlighting that solutions do exist across the continuum of cancer, and that they are within our reach.”

Focus is on four key areas: choosing healthy lives, detecting cancer early, achieving treatment for patients worldwide – not just in the west – and maximising the quality of life for patients, even those whose illness is terminal. Events have been organised globally to raise awareness, fund research, and spark conversations around a topic we hear a lot about but often seem to ignore.

Why do we need a global awareness day? Cancer is the “big bad” of today’s society. Hardly a day goes by without some research being pushed as the “next big breakthrough”; drink red wine, don’t eat meat, eat fish, eat more tomatoes, less fat, more olive oil, less alcohol, more alcohol, more exercise, less exercise, cosmetics, chemicals, fresh air, polluted air, soft drinks, fizzy drinks, anything you can imagine. Horror stories leap from every page of the papers; we’re obsessed with finding an edge against the illness.


So what’s happening at Herts for World Cancer Day?

While there aren’t any special events happening, there are a few things you can do to get involved.

  1. Set up an event of your own. Obvious, we know, but you can run an event yourself and start making a difference. Try a cake sale, a sponsored event, other fundraising activities, or just awareness raising – hand out some leaflets or posters. There are hundreds of cancer charities out there and they all need your help, so do a quick google and get cracking!

  2. Donate some money or time. Again, it seems obvious, but if you want to make a difference you can go and volunteer or donate to a cancer charity. There are plenty of them out there! And if you want to get something out of it, go and buy something from a charity shop. You’ll get some awesome stuff for a tenth of the price of your high street stores, plus you’re helping fund research.

  3. Keep an eye on the SU pages. There might not be anything special happening now, but there are always new events upcoming. Our very own Hertfordshire Marrow group (the student division of the Anthony Nolan blood cancer charity [Disclaimer: the author is on the committee]) run regular events in aid of blood cancer research and also bone marrow donor recruitment drives. That means that not only can you give money, you can sign yourself up to donate cells from your bone marrow to a cancer patient in desperate need of a transplant.

Hertfordshire Marrow Group at The Forum

Hertfordshire Marrow Group at The Forum

Looking beyond

But have you ever thought about how people in low income countries, without our sophisticated healthcare infrastructure, cope with cancer? Chances are, you think of cancer as a rich person’s illness; there’s so much else to die of, after all. Malaria, Ebola, starvation, malnutrition, war, corrupt governments, vigilantism, violent crime, poor sanitation, lack of water and extreme poverty occupy our minds when we think of poor countries such as CAR, Sierra Leone, and the Congo. But cancer doesn’t discriminate; its very nature means that it is a threat to everyone. And, although many people in the UK do die of their cancers, the survival rate is much higher due to our NHS and medical services. Many people in poorer countries don’t even know how to recognise cancer, let alone have the money to treat it.

8.2 million people per year die from cancer worldwide. That figure includes 4 million people said to die prematurely – ie, under the age of 69. Huge numbers of those deaths are preventable even with the cancer care that we have now – if people worldwide were treated as they are in Britain, millions of lives could be saved. Further advances in research, which require funding that simply isn’t provided at present, could save millions more.

But before we get to that, let’s bust a few myths; what, actually, is cancer?

Chances are you have a pretty good idea, or think you do. But let’s have a look at some of the mistakes people make.

  1. You can catch cancer. Nope! Cancer is an NCD – a non-communicable disease. As we’ll explain below, cancer arises from mutations in cell DNA – it’s generated inside your body. There’s nothing to fear from hanging around cancer sufferers.

  1. Cancer can be cured. This is a tough one, but unfortunately, there is no cure for cancer, and there never will be. Cancer isn’t a single, unified disease; there are hundreds of different cancers, with different pathologies (ways that they develop and are treated). A drug that treats throat cancer might not do anything at all to ovarian cancer, and there is no magic bullet. Further, you can’t eradicate cancer. As we mentioned in 1), cancer happens by itself in your cells, and it will continue to appear no matter what drugs you take. Maybe someday we can treat it before it kills the patient, but we can’t stop it from happening completely.

  1. You can avoid cancer by eating/not eating some foods/doing exercise/drinking herbal tea/buying supplements/dancing around your garden on the full moon wearing a onesie and waving a dried fish. Sorry again. Look, there’s a lot of research into what does and doesn’t cause cancer, and there are a few things – like smoking – t