4th of February is being observed throughout the world as the World Cancer Day. Cancer refers to a group of illnesses that result from cells in the body growing abnormally. These cells divide and produce new cells in an uncontrolled way forming masses or tumors that can spread throughout the body and cause damage to essential organs. According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide and resulted in about 7.6 million deaths in 2008. It further reports that breast, lung, stomach, colorectal and cervical cancer are the most common cancers that kill women whereas lung, stomach, liver, colorectal, and oesophageal cancer are the most common cancers in men. The Health Information System of the Department of Health confirms stomach, liver, and oesophageal cancer as the most common cancers in the Tibetan community.
The official theme of the 2013 World Cancer day focuses on dismissing myths and misconceptions about cancer under the tagline Cancer: Did you know? Here are the few myths and facts of cancer.
Myth 1: Cancer is just a health issue. Truth: Cancer is not just a health issue. It has wide-reaching social, economic, development, and human rights implications.
Myth 2: Cancer is a disease of the wealthy, elderly and developed countries. Truth: Cancer is a global epidemic. It affects all ages and socio-economic groups, with developing countries bearing a disproportionate burdens. About 70% of the cancer deaths occur in low and middle income countries.
Myth 3: Cancer is a death sentence. Truth: Many cancers that were once considered a death sentence can now be cured and for many more people, their cancer can be treated effectively.
Myth 4: Cancer is my fate. Truth: With the right strategies, a third of the most common cancers can be prevented.
On this occasion, the Department of Health would like to request every Tibetan to help spread the truth about cancer by reducing existing misconceptions about cancers in our community. Since the world is becoming increasingly interconnected, we should strive to become more cancer literate through active engagement in discussions and dialogues on cancer prevention using both traditional and modern communication platforms. The health centers and hospitals in all Tibetan settlements are urged to organize cancer awareness and outreach activities among the people throughout the month of February, 2013.
To commemorate this important day, the Department of Health has published and distributed a brochure titled “Women and Cancer” with an objective to create awareness about timely diagnosis and prevention of cancers among Tibetan women. We also organized two basic women’s healthcare workshops last month with a specific emphasis on creating awareness about cancer using both modern and Traditional Tibetan medicinal resources. A total of 70 female students of Tibetan Transit School, Dharamsala and TCV, Suja respectively participated in this workshop. The students formed groups and had brainstorming sessions regarding cancer facts. One of the activity involved learning to do self examination about early signs of breast cancer.
Delaying cancer screening and treatment can only worsen the condition as the cancer growth spreads quite fast inside our body. Tibetan women are requested to visit nearby hospitals to do Pap smear test to detect cervical cancer and also to get mammogram screening for breast cancer especially when you reach above forty years of age. Women between the ages of 10-20 are recommended to get HPV vaccination to prevent cervical cancer. It is also advisable to do endoscopy if you are suffering from gastric ulcer for a prolonged period. Maintaining your weight, having a well balanced diet and abstinence from smoking and heavy drinking significantly reduces the risks of cancer in one’s life time. Additionally, you should get Hepatitis B vaccination to minimize your risk of getting liver cancer associated with Hepatitis B. I sincerely hope that with right understanding about cancer and collective community efforts, cancer burden can be significantly reduced in our exiled community.
Dr. Tsering Wangchuk
Department of Health