Alliance Against Cancer
The 4th of February 2020 marks 20 years of World Cancer Day, a global initiative to raise awareness and take action against cancer. The event is led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). The disease occurs when there is uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body which form a lump called a tumour, this is true for all types of cancers except cancer of the blood, known as leukaemia. According to scientific online publication Our World in Data, an approximate 10 million people die prematurely as a result of cancer and the World Health Organisation included cancer as one of the top 10 threats to public health in 2019.
Since the advent of World Cancer Day, there has been incredible progress in terms of increased political will to prioritise the disease, technological advancements, breakthroughs in research and a much wider public understanding of the disease. However, there is still much more to be done as some key issues continue to hinder our power to reduce its rising incidence. Individuals are exposed to myths and misinformation on cancer and to combat this, access to information and knowledge is pertinent. Prevention and risk reduction are key issues as over one third of cancer cases can be prevented by choosing healthier lifestyle options and prioritising health. As individuals, we need to take responsibility of our health, including getting vaccinated, maintaining healthy lifestyle, avoiding unhealthy habits and excess exposure to the sun. Governments, communities, workplaces and schools need to implement measures to support and sustain healthy habits. Equal accessibility to healthcare and cancer services is an essential right the public need to champion and governments to prioritise and take accountability for. Cancer goes far beyond physical health and deeply impacts mental wellbeing, thus, care for patients and caregivers is crucial. The shortage of skilled healthcare workers is a great barrier to delivering quality patient care; rural areas are especially vulnerable to such problems and exacerbate the issue further. This skills gap must be addressed urgently.
Cancer is no new adversary to Nagaland. According to the Naga Hospital Authority Kohima (NHAK), 600 new cancer cases are detected and registered in the state every year. In 2019, Nagaland recorded the highest number of nasopharynx cancer cases in India and is ranked third as per global levels. The burden of cancer is particularly acute in Nagaland as patients are diagnosed at late stages due to lack of awareness and diagnostic tools. Patients in remote areas have difficulty accessing basic healthcare facilities due to limited transportation options, poor communication networks and financial constraints. We are currently grasped in the fear of the novel coronavirus but should not forget the epidemic of cancer that has been looming over us for decades. We can work together to reduce cancer risk factors, overcome barriers to early diagnosis, treatment and palliative care. We can build an alliance against fear of the disease, ignorance of important issues, and complacency over what we as individuals and as a society can change. Let’s create a cancer-free world.