Though one in every four Malaysians runs the risk of getting cancer in their life time and that there is still no miracle cure for the dreaded disease, many people are not bothered by these facts.

It is estimated that each year more than 40,000 Malaysians suffer from various types of cancer, especially breast cancer, cervix cancer, prostate cancer amongst men and leukaemia, a type of blood cancer amongst children.

Cancer is also the number two killer disease after heart disease with 26,089 death reported in Peninsular Malaysia last year. Four years ago, the disease was only at number five in the list of killer diseases in the country.

According to the First National Cancer Registry Report, among the main causes of the hike in cancer cases is the Malaysian way of life and habits, a finding similar to that of a group of researchers at Harvard University, USA.

The American study found that seven out of ten types of cancer were determined by way of life, with 30 percent caused by smoking, 30 percent from the food consumed and 10 percent resulting from bad habit such as no exercise. In other words, the best way to prevent cancer is to do away with the unhealthy practices such as smoking, consuming alcohol and bad eating habits.

Topping the list of a healthy life-style is the type of food consumed. Eating fatty and high cholestoral food is certainly out, while eating less fruits and fibres can invite some types of cancer. Excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk of getting cancer of the liver, esophagus and also the large intestine, while the danger of smoking is well-known.

Last July, Minister of Health Datuk Chua Jui Meng shocked the nation when he revealed that Malaysians had the most number of nasal cancer (Nasopharyngeal) cases when compared with other countries in the world.

Likewise, the Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Women and Family Development, Datuk Mastika Junaidah Husin, told the Dewan Negara that the new culture of women smoking in the country had contributed to the increase of possible cervical cancer.

Besides the long-term effects of smoking such as irregular menstruation and miscarriages, nicotine in the breast milk of women who smoke can also cause the sudden death syndrome among newborn babies. The smoking culture among women including teenagers are said to be the result of the advertising blitz of the cigarette industry, giving the perception that smoking is something that is "glamorous and cool" when in actual fact these women are the ideal victims of these cigarette companies out to cash in on their rising purchasing power.

So, one early and easy step to prevent cancer is not to start smoking or for smokers, to stop smoking.

Numerous studies have found that when smokers quit the deadly habit, their risk of contracting the killer disease will drop markedly, be they liver cancer, mouth cancer, lung cancer or cancer of the esophagus, urinary bladder, kidney and pancreas. The studies have also found that there is a high correlation between obesity and cancer.

Ageing women whose weight are 35 percent above normal have 55 percent chances of getting cancer of the womb, breast, cervix, endometrial, ovary and gall bladder, while overweight men have 40 percent chances of getting cancer of the large intestine and prostates.

Regular exercise is a healthy way of life and among its many benefits is keeping cancer, not to mention the dreaded heart diseases, at bay. Depending on your age, a regular brisk walk for the senior citizens for example, could do wonders to their health.

President of Malaysian Cancer Council (Makna) Datuk Mohd Farid Ariffin said periodical examination, at least once a year, can help to detect cancer early.

"There is a better chance of treating a disease if it is detected at an early stage, compared to one which has reached a critical stage. Therefore, if you detect any sign of any disease, especially cancer, do not delay in getting a health check-up to prevent your health from deteriorating further," he added.

Farid said many cancer cases referred to Makna showed that the patients had neglected the early signs of the disease until it was too late to treat the disease which normally results in death.

"We are very disappointed with this attitude, for example, a patient for breast cancer, there is an early sign such as lumps in the breast, while for cancer of the cervix, there is early signs such as smell and bleeding but most patients are too embarrassed to see a doctor and when they do, it is too late for them and this is the cause of many deaths," he said.

Worse still, there is a very low awareness and knowledge about cancer and most people do not give much thought about it. He said it was for this reason that Makna has been relentless in organising awarenss campaigns on this dangerous disease for the past 10 years.

"The level of awareness of the people is increasing but it has not been fully accompanied by changes in their way of life ... in the rural areas or in the cities, the food consumed are almost similar. "They have not changed their way of life and eating habits; everybody is giving more importance to their work, they exercise less so much so their immune system becomes very weak," he explained.

Besides the awareness campaign, Makna which is a non-profit organisation is also active in conducting research on cancer and its cure and also the latest method of treatment.

Farid said the research programmes are being jointly carried out with institutions of higher learning such as Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Medical Research Institute (IMR) and the Malaysian Dietician Association. Farid said he welcomed the government's proactive measures in handling the problems of the killer disease in the country.

The goverment, besides organising awareness campaigns and research, has also taken steps to reduce the risks of gettting cancer through smoking by implementing strategies in controlling the usage of tobacco, besides legal actions.

Since 1989, immunisation programme for hepatitis B has been carried out to prevent liver cancer among children, while the pap smear programme to prevent cancer of the cervix was introduced for women. But there is only so much that the authorities, doctors and NGOs can do for you. The last but most important measure against cancer or any other killer diseases is for the individual Malaysian to change to a healthy life-style. - Bernama

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