But despite its small size, St. Kitts and Nevis is believed to be ranking high on the international stage, (per capita), when it comes to the dreaded chronic disease. Though the actual numbers are no way close to other leading countries, including some here in the Caribbean, like Trinidad & Tobago, it just seems too often that when one enquires about the cause of death of a friend, neighbour or loved one, the illness stated is cancer.
This has influenced the quiet call in some corners of society for a careful study to be undertaken to help identify the true causes leading to this obvious escalation in cancer deaths amongst Kittitian and Nevisian men and women, including the young.
Yet, despite that, and though Tuesday 4th February was celebrated here and internationally as World Cancer Day, not many seemed to have been aware, though we have reached the point where greater attention at all levels must become a priority. Not only are health officials expected to lead the way in any awareness initiative, it is equally accepted that self -awareness must become a normal practice in every home and community-and in the workplace.
The community has its role to play. It is a disease that not only impacts the patient, but so too the immediate families who have to carry their share of the associated burden.
The cost for treatment for those afflicted here and in far-away lands, is expensive, but some organizations in St. Kitts and Nevis have been struggling to make an input to help the unfortunate ones, especially women with breast cancer. These groups invest much in providing support, advice and funding-though limited-for required tests. However the World Health, Organization (WHO) is cautioning that the “Battle against cancer won’t be won with treatment alone.”
The WHO states that in addition to the human toll of cancer, the financial cost of cancer is substantial. They say the direct costs include payments and resources used for treatment, as well as the costs of care and rehabilitation related to the illness. Indirect costs include the loss of economic output due to days missed from work (morbidity costs) and premature death (mortality costs), added the world body. “There are also hidden costs of cancer, such as health insurance premiums and nonmedical expenses (transportation, child or elder care, housekeeping assistance, wigs, etc.).”
WHO says that recent research has shown that cancer has the most devastating economic impact of any cause of death in the world. “Data limitations do not allow estimating the worldwide economic costs of cancer but portions of the total costs of cancer have been estimated to be as high as $895 billion (US) worldwide. The costs of cancer are staggering, and with the growth and aging of the population, prevention efforts are important to help reduce new cancer cases, human suffering, and economic costs,” concluded WHO.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the specialized agency of WHO, has warned that the cancer burden is growing at an alarming pace and emphasizes the need for urgent implementation of efficient prevention strategies to curb the disease. In 2012, the global burden of cancer rose to an estimated 14 million new cases per year, a figure expected to rise to 22 million annually within the next 2 decades. When it comes to actual deaths, the World Health Organization states that cancer is a leading cause worldwide- accounting for 8.2 million deaths in 2012. The main types of cancer they said are: lung (1.59 million deaths); liver (745 000 deaths); stomach (723 000 deaths); colorectal (694 000 deaths); breast (521 000 deaths); oesophageal cancer (400 000 deaths).
A 2013 PAHO/WHO report (Country Profiles 2013) revealed that within Latin America and the Caribbean, cancer remains the second leading cause of death, with some 1.3 million each year.
In 2008 the World health Organization stated that in the Caribbean, there were 79,300 new cancer cases and deaths (42,800) men, (36,500) women. The two most common types of new cases and deaths were prostate (37.3%) and lung and bronchus in men; while for women, it was breast cancer (24.6%) and cervix uteri (13.0%). When it came to actual deaths for men, prostate led the way with 24.9% followed by lung bronchus at 19.6%. In women it was breast cancer (15.8%) and lung bronchus 12.7%.
Around the same period, in 2007/2008 in St. Kitts and Nevis when a study was done, 15.7% of individuals surveyed had a chronic disease and cancer was prominently featured.
With the focus on World Cancer Day, on Tuesday this week, health officials here were careful to remind citizens that cancer is not a death sentence. They said cancer is avoidable and preventable; and treatable and curable, if caught early.
Part of the thrust to combat the disease they suggest is found in the adoption of better lifestyles, including a revolutionary change in dietary habits. A recent PAHO/WHO report states that obesity, which is becoming a growing problem in St. Kitts and Nevis, was another important cancer risk factor, and “is highest in English-speaking Caribbean countries, notably Bahamas, Belize, St. Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago.”
It is the advice therefore of the office of the Chief Medical Officer, that food and exercise are “medicine” to prevent and combat cancer (as well as other chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and mental illness).
A shift in lifestyle principles is highly recommended in order to maximize good health, minimize illness, and reduce medical bills.
One of the groups here that is doing its best to highlight the problems of cancer is Reach for Recovery Support Group, which has announced the launch of a new initiative “Twelve Shades of Pink 2014.
This is an organization that supports breast cancer survivors and families emotionally and financially.
It has organized an event titled, “TOTAL PRAISE”, to celebrate cancer survivors, and honor loved-ones.
TOTAL PRAISE will be held at the Antioch Baptist Church, St. Johnston’s Village, on Sunday February 23rd at 6:30pm and would feature gospel renditions and a candle light vigil as a celebration of survivors and a remembrance for loved ones who lost the fight of not only breast cancer, but all the other cancers that affect our nation’s health.
Along with the evening service, the group will officially launch “12 shades of pink” which is a formal commitment to decentralize breast cancer awareness activities/initiatives throughout the year.
In the meantime, here are some key facts offered by the World Health Organization:
- Cancers figure among the leading causes of death worldwide, accounting for 8.2 million deaths in 2012
- Lung, liver, stomach, colorectal and breast cancers cause the most cancer deaths each year
- The most frequent types of cancer differ between men and women
- About 30% of cancer deaths are due to the five leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, alcohol us
- Tobacco use is the most important risk factor for cancer causing over 20% of global cancer deaths and about 70% of global lung cancer deaths
- Cancer causing viral infections such as HBV/HCV and HPV are responsible for up to 20% of cancer deaths in low- and middle-income countries
- More than 60% of world’s total new annual cases occur in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. These regions account for 70% of the world’s cancer deaths
- It is expected that annual cancer cases will rise from 14 million in 2012 to 22 within the next two decades