May 22, 2015
Cancer is leading cause of death in SVG

With cancer-related deaths in St Vincent in 2013 showing an almost 44 per cent increase since 2009, the Ministry of Health’s epidemiologist is urging Vincentians to take more precaution against the risk factors that can lead to the development of the disease.

Dr Rosmond Adams said that while {{more}}the Ministry of health, Wellness and the Environment can provide information and advice on cancer treatment, its main focus is on prevention.

“The treatment of cancer is expensive,” he noted. “People who do not have health insurance, and whose Health system… does not provide oncology care, will have to spend a great proportion of money out of their pocket.

“It can drive families who are poor further into poverty… or if they don’t have money [to afford treatment], they will die. Prevention is better than cure.”

Statistics provided in the Monitoring and Evaluation Health Sector Report (for the year 2013) show that in 2009, there were 121 cancer-related deaths. In 2010, there were 122; in 2011, 141; in 2012, 131; and 174 in 2013.

The main risk factors for most types of cancers include smoking, alcohol abuse, poor diet, obesity and leading a sedentary lifestyle (lack of regular exercise).

“Some people feel that smoking is only associated with lung cancer but it is not. It’s a risk factor for all types of cancers. The abuse of alcohol is also a risk factor for all types of cancers.”

There are also risk factors that are linked to specific types of cancers. For example, exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma; certain types of inhaled substances/chemicals can cause lung cancer; and overexposure to the sun can cause skin cancer.

Dr Adams also believes that there is a strong link between the increasing consumption of processed foods and the increase in incidence of cancer.

“What you have happening… is people are now moving away from cooking fresh food. Our Health and Nutrition Survey showed that the consumption of fruits and vegetables were way below that what the World Health Organization deemed as regular or normal consumption,” he explained.

“We have been consuming more processed foods, more foods with sugars, more food high in sodium, more food high in MSGs – which are known carcinogens – and foods that can stay on shelves for a longer time.”

Dr Adams also said that while the vast majority of persons who develop cancer are over the age of 45, they are seeing increasing numbers of cases in the 25 – 44 age bracket. And in addition to that, prostate cancer and breast cancer remain the most commonly seen types of cancer in SVG.

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT, Dr Adams explained that the Ministry of Health is beefing up its thrust to promote healthier lifestyles and encouraging both men and women to be screened regularly – as early detection can significantly increase an individual’s chances of surviving cancer.

“There are certain types of cancers that people should not die from,” asserted Dr Adams. “Women should never die from breast cancer nor cervical cancer, because there are screening programmes. Also, men should not die from prostate cancer…”

Dr Adams said that at present, there is no established cancer registry, but the Ministry is working toward implementing one.

“Most of our cancer data that we report is mortality data… What the registry would help us to do is to know when you’re diagnosed, if you move from one stage to the other, it would allow us to know how quick someone is progressing…”

He also explained that a cancer registry would allow the Ministry to identify the prevalence and incidence of the various types of cancers, so that they can “more effectively manage and treat these cancers.”

“We are trying to move in a way to deliver more quality health care services in a way to address the rising mortality from cancer and other non-communicable diseases.

“The cancer registry can better advise us, as public health decision makers, where we need to put our screening programmes, what screening programmes we need to put in place, what treatment we need to do, and how we can properly manage patients.”