‘I can, we can’ make a difference in cancer control

Catherine Mwauyakufa, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
Human beings were created in a superior way from any other creations in so much as that they can reason and have power over their actions. However, some of their actions do not exhibit that element to reason, which leaves the human beings to suffer some of the tragic, yet avoidable consequences. Cancer is a non communicable disease and World Cancer Day is observed on February 4 and Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world to commemorate the day. The theme for the next three years is: “I can, we can”.

Avoidable cancer deaths, however, continue to claim many lives. A person who smokes tobacco has 23% increased chance of getting lung cancer as compared to a non-smoker. That is upping a totally avoidable risk factor, which can be reduced drastically by simply not smoking at all, or, in case of those addicted, trying to cut on the amount of cigarettes taken every day. A person who smokes would argue ‘that it is easier said than done’.

Globally, tobacco causes 70% of the 1.59 million lung cancer deaths annually. Passive smoking can be equally dangerous as inhalers are exposed to huge amounts of smoke. This can be in the home, at the bar, at the restaurant and other public places. Smoking in public places must be totally banned as it exposes non-smokers to dangerous fumes. Passive smoking accounts for a sizeable number of lung cancer cases. People need to breathe clean air. A deterrent measure would be to make tobacco products very expensive.

All tobacco products must also carry strong pictorial health warnings that are legible and easily readable. I have locally seen a warning on a tobacco product reading: ‘Tobacco may be dangerous to your health . . .’ Note the word ‘may’. So does it mean it may or may not not be harmful? Such reckless wordings must be scrutinised by the government as it gives the smoker a false belief that it ‘may’ also not be harmful. That is food for thought. Dr Patricia Rivera of the CHEST and Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) said that people who have smoked for over 15 years and are aged 55 to 80 ought to be screened for lung cancer. “Screening modalities for people who have smoked for over 15 years and are aged above 55 years ought to be in place. They are most at risk of developing lung cancer,” she said during a webinar organised by CNS recently.

She noted that there are multi factorial risk factors at hand, and these can be age, tobacco use, family history and occupational history. “Pulmonary fibrosis risk increases with smoking. People are at risk through occupational exposure. They need to be screened,” she called for this to be routine. “More people will die of lung cancer than of TB, HIV and malaria combined,” said Dr Rivera. She urged that tobacco use hazards must be spelled out and awareness must be raised always. “Tobacco is still the most important risk factor accounting for 70% of all lung cancer deaths,” she said. In my home country Zimbabwe, there is now a wide range of substance abuse—from the traditional cigarettes to other products that smokers use ranging from glue, cough mixtures, weed and unprocessed tobacco.

In the Zambezi valley bordering Zambia and Zimbabwe the Tonga people, both men and women, smoke water pipes with relish. Although there are no statistics to substantiate that lung cancer is high in this region as compared to neighbouring districts, I believe if a study was to be carried out it could give insight into that. A gourd has a pipe attached to it. Smoke passes through water before it is inhaled. There is a general belief that since the smoke passes through water it is filtered and is not harmful. However, the truth is that one episode of water pipe smoking is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes. So the belief of water filtered smoke being safe is false.

Water pipe smokers the world over have a higher risk of getting lung cancer, as the product contains more nicotine as compared to cigarette smoke. As it is scientifically proven that smoking increases the risk of getting lung cancer, why then be standing on the blind spot, puffing away to death. ‘I can, we can’ have a proactive approach to cancer and lower its risks. Tobacco products being harmful for health have to be controlled. Smoking in public places is banned in my country, but every day I see people smoking on the streets. Is it because there is no fine for smoking in public in my country? Unless strict action is taken against people smoking in public places, merely having an anti smoking law will not be enough deterrent.

So we need to have proper laws in place that are implemented properly at the ground level. This, coupled with general awareness and information on cancer and tobacco, will go a long way in preventing diseases like cancer take an unnecessary toll on human lives.

Catherine Mwauyakufa, Citizen News Service - CNS
February 5, 2016