Health Kalon’s Message on World Cancer Day

February 4 is marked globally as the World Cancer Day to raise massive awareness at the international level about the global cancer epidemic. The 2015 World Cancer day campaign,  an initiative by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), focuses on the main theme, “Not Beyond us”,  and takes a positive and proactive action to the fight against cancer, highlighting that solutions do exist across the continuum of cancer, and that they are within our reach.  This year’s world cancer day campaign focuses on four main components:  Choosing healthy life choices, delivering early detection, achieving treatment for all and maximizing quality of life.

Cancer is a serious global public health challenge with an estimated 8.2 million deaths related to cancer each year out of which 4 million people die prematurely between the ages of 30 to 69 according to UICC.  The disparity that occurs in access to screening and treatment is staggering with many cancer patients of disadvantaged communities particularly in many developing countries unable to afford the huge cost of cancer treatment and care. In such a scenario, the overall community mobilization and awareness about cancer particularly early screening is crucial to minimize cancer related mortality and morbidity.

Cancer is a disease that occurs when some of the body cells start to grow and divide in uncontrolled manner. Such a growth may present itself as a tumor in solid body organs or uncontrolled body cell growths.  When left untreated, cancer can grow and spread into surrounding normal tissues, or other parts of the body via the bloodstream and lymphatic system. Cancer can affect any part of the human organ system. There are many factors which contribute to cancer namely: alcohol, use of tobacco, genetic factors, weakened immune system, increasing age, infection etc. The common signs and symptoms of cancer include presence of lumps, changes in bowel habits, unexplained bleeding, unexplained weight loss, coughing and breathlessness and fatigue.

In the context of the Tibetan community, certain cancers like stomach cancer, esophageal cancer and liver cancer have been common causes of morbidity and mortality in the Tibetan population in India and Nepal.  The increasing trend in smoking among the youths in the community is certainly a concern regarding possible burden of lung cancer in coming years.  I believe that active awareness about cancer and its early signs and symptoms is the most significant medium to reduce the burden of cancer. Therefore, all the Tibetan health facilities engage and actively communicate with the community members about cancer routinely and during world cancer day.  In addition, to facilitate prevention and control of cancer within the Tibetan community, the Department of Health of CTA has been implementing a stomach cancer screening program in all major Tibetan settlements since 2014.  Since cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers among women worldwide, the Mother and Child health program of the Department of Health, CTA provides PAP smear screening to Tibetan women in all major health centers. In addition, we have been providing HPV vaccination to prevent cervical cancer to Tibetan girls in targeted locations on a rolling basis.

The enrollment in Tibetan Medicare system has contributed to improved access to emergency care for many cancer patients in various Tibetan settlements and has helped to reduce the personal costs of cancer treatment. However, in addition to these initiatives, I feel that the most important way to reduce cancer burden in the Tibetan community is through improved awareness about cancer, dispelling the myth that it is a incurable disease, and to take active commitment at the individual level to undergo routine health tests and screenings when possible symptoms and uneasiness are felt by oneself.

Therefore, to honor the World Cancer Day, I encourage everyone to take active preventive measures like eating well balanced diet, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, quitting smoking and leading an active life with regular physical exercise.  Since early detection of cancer can play a crucial role in successful treatment and cure from cancer, therefore, I request everyone to recognize and be aware about the early signs and symptoms of cancer and refer to your nearest health center for further medical consultation and screening.  Most importantly, compassionate care towards cancer patients and talking openly about cancer and listening empathetically will play an important role in facilitating the overall healing of cancer patients and their families.

Let us all join hands for greater awareness about cancer and in leading a healthy life with minimum risks of cancer.

February 4, 2015